Six Nations postpone Italy-England match due to coronavirus

Bagshot (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Italy's concluding match against England in the Six Nations Championship on March 14 has been postponed due to concerns over the coronavirus, officials announced Thursday.

"Six Nations notes the decree issued by the Italian Government on March 4 with respect to all upcoming sporting events in that country," said a statement.

"The decision has now been taken to postpone the three matches between Italy and England (Men's, Women's, and U20) set to take place over the weekend of 13th/14th/15th March, with the intention to reschedule them at later dates.

"Based on the information that is currently available, all other Six Nations matches are set to go ahead as scheduled."

England play Wales at Twickenham on Saturday, with their Under-20 and women's teams involved in corresponding internationals this weekend as well.

- 'Disappointing' -

"We understand the decision to postpone all three England matches against Italy taken in the interests of overall public health," said Bill Sweeney, the chief executive of England's governing Rugby Football Union.

"We know this will be disappointing for all the fans who were set to travel next weekend. We are committed to the successful delivery of three matches against Wales this weekend at Twickenham Stadium (men's), Twickenham Stoop (women's) and Kingsholm (Under-2Os).

"Discussions with the Six Nations are ongoing and we will update you with more information when we can."

Ireland's match against Italy in Dublin, due to be played on Saturday, had already been postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

The Italian government had ordered on Wednesday that all major sporting events be held behind closed doors until April 3 as the country grapples with the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Playing a match without spectators was an option for the Italian Rugby Federation but would have involved them taking a huge financial hit.

For example, it is estimated the Irish Rugby Football Union could lose an estimated 10 million euros (£8.6 million) in revenue if their match against Italy is not played.

And 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 beyond purely financial concerns to play any held over matches.

France are the only team left in this season's Six Nations who can complete a Grand Slam.

If they win their remaining matches, away to Scotland on Sunday and at home to Ireland on March 14 -- assuming both go ahead as scheduled -- it would mean the 2020 Six Nations had a winner despite the postponements.

But the delays could mean Italy great Sergio Parisse, denied an international farewell when the Azzurri's final game of last year's World Cup in Japan was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, is unable to bow out of the Test arena with a final appearance in the Six Nations.

There is a precedent for rescheduling Six Nations fixtures due to health concerns.

In 2001, due to the highly contagious livestock foot and mouth outbreak, Ireland had three matches (against Scotland, Wales and England) rescheduled to September/October of that year.

At the time of the postponements, England were one win away from the Grand Slam. They lost 20-14 to Ireland when their delayed fixture was eventually played in Dublin, although England did win the title despite that defeat.