Rugby

Italy-England Six Nations clash postponed because of COVID-19

AP, AFP-JIJI

Italy’s Six Nations rugby match against England next week was postponed on Thursday because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Italy’s visit to Ireland in Dublin scheduled for Saturday was already postponed, but tournament organizers insisted all of the remaining matches in the last two rounds were going ahead as scheduled.

The decision to put off the Italy-England men’s, women’s and Under-20 matches in Italy over March 14-15 followed the decree from the Italian government on Wednesday that all sporting events in Italy must take place without spectators until April 3.

Schools and universities throughout the country, which has seen 3,000 infections and more than 100 deaths caused by COVID-19, have been shut until March 15.

England flyhalf George Ford said the situation was similar to the one the squad encountered during last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan where its final group match was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.

“When we were in Japan there was the typhoon,” Ford said. “There are bigger things that are more critical than us playing in a rugby game. There are important things other than playing against Wales.

“You speak about family all the time and there are things that happen in your life all the time.”

There was still an option of playing the Italy-England match behind closed doors, but such a move would be a financial calamity for the Italian Rugby Federation.

For example, it is estimated the Irish Rugby Football Union could lose an estimated €10 million ($11.22 million) in revenue if its match against Italy is not played.

With the window for earning ranking points ahead of the draw for the 2023 World Cup in France closing in November, there is a further incentive to play any postponed matches sooner rather than later.

Every weekend between now and mid-July features existing club matches across European leagues or previously scheduled internationals.

The first weekend without matches in the English Premiership or the Pro14, the former Celtic League, is June 27.

But that is when summer tours begin, with England expected to travel to Japan that day, meaning that postponed Six Nations may be held over until as late as September or October.

“The decision has now been taken to postpone the three matches between Italy and England (men’s, women’s, and U-20) . . . with the intention to reschedule them at later dates,” tournament organizers said in a statement.

“Six Nations fully intends to complete all 15 games across all three championships when time allows. We will refrain from making any rescheduling announcements while we keep assessing the situation.”

After the men’s match in Rome on March 14 in the final round, the women’s match was in Padua and the Under-20s in Verona on March 15.

The postponements could mean it will be some time before a winner of the men’s Six Nations is known, unless, France, the only team unbeaten, wins out against Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend and Ireland in Paris next week to clinch a Grand Slam.

The postponement of Italy vs. England also means Sergio Parisse’s swan song is delayed yet again. Parisse was set to mark his retirement from international rugby with a final appearance for the Azzurri in Rome.

The 36-year-old Parisse, Italy’s most capped player, had been expected to play his final match at the Rugby World Cup in October, but the biggest typhoon to hit Japan in 60 years arrived and Italy’s last pool match against New Zealand was canceled.

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