Ireland to proceed with two-day camp and make new plans after Italy game postponed

Ireland now turn their attention towards a visit to Paris on 14 March.

ANDY FARRELL’S IRELAND will gather in Dublin this evening for a two-day training camp as planned, despite their next Six Nations clash with Italy having been officially postponed due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s understood that team management and players will meet this evening to discuss their plan of action beyond this week, with no fixture scheduled until a visit to Paris to play France on 14 March.

andy-farrell Farrell's Ireland are gathering this evening for a training camp in Dublin. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

While some members of Ireland’s extended squad have returned to their provinces to play in the Guinness Pro14 this weekend, the 28-man group that Farrell named yesterday will gather in Dublin later for a short camp culminating in an open training session in Donnybrook on Friday.

With no Pro14 fixtures scheduled for the weekend of 6/7/8 March – or indeed the following weekend – there is no scope for Ireland players to get game time with their provinces in place of the Italy fixture.

One concern for Farrell and his coaching staff is that some members of the Six Nations squad who have been on the fringes of involvement in the championship so far have not played many minutes of rugby since the turn of the year.

Ulster’s planned Pro14 fixture against Benetton this weekend was postponed, meaning several of the northern province’s Ireland players were denied a chance to get game time and will instead join the Ireland camp.

While the cancellation of the Italy fixture – and fears that there could be more cancellations in the weeks ahead – will leave players without game time, Farrell and co. will also consider the potential value of rest for key players at this stage of the season, with a two-Test tour of Australia to come in July.

With the IRFU having only just agreed to postpone the Italy game at a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris and government officials this afternoon, there is no clarity yet on when the fixture will be rescheduled for.

The IRFU is due to begin discussions with the Six Nations and the Italian rugby federation imminently and hope to provide an update in the coming days. 

With the rest of the Pro14 and Champions Cup seasons to be played out in March, April, May, and June – as well as with a lack of clarity on how the coronavirus crisis will unfold in the coming weeks and months – it may be that the fixture with Italy is postponed until much later this year.

In 2001, when the foot-and-mouth crisis hit Ireland, three of the national team’s Six Nations games were postponed until September and October of that year.

a-view-of-the-aviva-stadium-before-the-game The Italy game at the Aviva Stadium has been postponed. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

2020 is also the year in which the pool draw for the 2023 World Cup pools takes place. That draw will be done following the November Tests, when the official World Rugby rankings will be used to decide on seedings for the draw.

As such, Test matches going ahead as planned in 2020 will be important for nations hoping to earn a better seeding for the pool draw.

In the shorter-term, Farrell’s Ireland will meet this evening to discuss their plans for training and managing players next week without the Italy game to prepare for.

At this stage, their visit to Paris on 14 March is still due to go ahead as scheduled, meaning Ireland will turn their attention to les Bleus.

Meanwhile, Rugby Players Ireland – the body that represents professional players in this country – welcomed the decision to postpone the Italy game.

“The IRFU has been in contact and we have discussed the need to prioritise the health and safety of our members,” said CEO, Simon Keogh.

“The unpredictable nature of the threat posed by coronavirus is worrying. We therefore welcome the move to postpone Ireland’s fixtures against Italy so that players and supporters are safeguarded against any potential spread.

“Whilst we appreciate the magnitude of the Six Nations Championship, a health risk of this scale undoubtedly supersedes any rugby game.”

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