In Brief

Could coronavirus close down the Six Nations?

Postponing matches ‘would throw the championship into turmoil’

The 2020 Six Nations rugby championship could be “thrown into turmoil” by the spread of coronavirus in Italy. 

Seven people have died from the virus in Italy in recent days as the country struggles to contain its spread.

BBC Sport reports that many schools and colleges were closed yesterday in the north of the country, which is at the epicentre of the outbreak, and sporting fixtures were also cancelled, including Sunday’s women’s Six Nations match between Italy and Scotland.

Inter Milan’s Europa League last-32 home match against Ludogorets will go ahead as scheduled on Thursday but it will be played behind closed doors.

Monitoring the situation

The Italians are due to play Ireland in Dublin on 7 March and according to Irish broadcaster RTE, Six Nations organisers are “closely monitoring” the coronavirus situation in Italy. 

In a statement, the tournament organisers said they are “in regular contact with the FIR [Italian union] and all other unions and federations as well as the relevant local authorities and health organisations”. 

Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris said that “big decisions” will have to be made in the interest of public safety, adding: “This situation is evolving. The weekend’s activities have shown that there is still an awful lot unknown about the coronavirus and about the path it might take.”

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Anti-climax

Also in doubt, reports The Times, is England’s trip to Rome on the final weekend of the competition on 14 March. 

Two Guinness Pro14 matches scheduled for this weekend - Zebre vs. Ospreys in Parma and Benetton vs. Ulster in Treviso - have already been postponed and the Times doesn’t sound optimistic that England’s game will go ahead. 

“The RFU was in contact with Six Nations officials yesterday and is understood to be anxious for an early decision, it is seen as a matter of priority,” said the paper. 

Organisers must also act quickly in the best interest of the tens of thousands of England fans who traditionally make the trip to Rome. 

Foot and mouth

England, Ireland and France are all title contenders and postponing matches “would throw the championship into turmoil”, but such a move wouldn’t be unprecedented. 

In 2001 an outbreak of foot and mouth disease forced Ireland to postpone its three home matches until the following autumn, a decision that had unfortunate consequences for England. 

Having slaughtered Wales 44-14, Italy 80-23, Scotland 43-3 and France 48-19, the rampant English were steaming towards a grand slam, but by the time they went to Dublin for the rearranged fixture seven months later their momentum had gone and they slumped to a narrow defeat.

Six Nations fixtures

Round four fixtures 
  • Saturday 7 March: Ireland vs. Italy (2.15pm GMT; ITV); England vs. Wales (4.45pm GMT; ITV and S4C)  
  • Sunday 8 March: Scotland vs. France (3pm GMT; BBC) 
Round five fixtures: Saturday 14 March 
  • Wales vs. Scotland (2.15pm GMT; BBC and S4C)  
  • Italy vs. England (4.45pm GMT; ITV)  
  • France vs. Ireland (8pm GMT; BBC)

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