World Rugby postpones July Tests over coronavirus

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Paris (AFP)

All rugby Test matches scheduled for July have been postponed because of the coronavirus, World Rugby announced on Friday, saying they were impossible to stage given ongoing quarantine and travel restrictions.

"Extended travel and quarantine restrictions that apply to numerous countries, and concerns over adequate player preparation time, mean that any sort of cross-border international rugby competition cannot be hosted in July," World Rugby said in a statement.

On Friday evening, Bernard Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation, cast doubt on the autumn Test matches.

France were due to tour Argentina in the summer but, Laporte, newly elected vice-president of World Rugby, told AFP: "We've been expecting this for some time."

"Our big question mark is October-November," Laporte added. "Will the northern hemisphere be able to go to the southern hemisphere and vice versa? We'll really know in mid-June or late June. But it seems compromised."

The decision to cancel the summer Tests comes as a fresh blow to rugby, with unions suffering a slump in revenues since the pandemic brought professional sport worldwide to a halt.

Ireland and Fiji had been due to visit cash-strapped Australia, New Zealand were to host Wales and Scotland, and England were set to visit Japan in what is a key period for the sport.

Scotland and Georgia were also scheduled to tour world champions South Africa.

"All parties, including member unions, international competitions, professional club competitions and international rugby players, will be involved in the continued evaluation of potential contingency options with a view to achieving an aligned calendar for the remainder of the year," World Rugby said.

"All decision-making will be entirely contingent on national government travel, quarantine and health advice and important player welfare and hosting considerations in line with return-to-rugby guidance recently published by World Rugby."

The northern hemisphere Six Nations tournament remains unfinished while the southern hemisphere nations have concerns about the four-nation Rugby Championship, featuring New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina, which is due to start in August.

- 'Financial difficulties' -

Laporte is campaigning for a longer international window in the autumn: "We want to go to the southern hemisphere in October and have them come to the north in November, replacing July with October."

Laporte's suggested solution could cause problems for the European club competitions which had reached the quarter-final stage. Organisers have talked of concluding in October in Marseille.

"I understand that everyone is trying to impose their own thing," said Laporte. "But we can't let federations die. We're not going to say to the southern hemisphere 'No, no, we're not coming' because we have club competitions. It's not possible."

"When you see the financial difficulties these federations are in, you have to help them. Afterwards, if the conditions forbid us to go, it's something else. And I understand the clubs who need to do play their competitions but we'll have to find common ground. We'll be taking decisions at the end of June."

South Africa Rugby boss Jurie Roux said the Springboks were already evaluating potential contingency options while Wales have already said they hope to reschedule their matches in Japan and New Zealand.

New Zealand and Australia are in talks about a possible Test series later in the year, and Australian Rugby's interim chief executive Rob Clarke said restoring the Ireland and Fiji fixtures remained a possibility.

"We are planning accordingly to host the fixtures later in the year, if possible, and will continue to work with World Rugby to identify a new window within the international calendar to stage the matches," he said.