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Ireland v Italy off - so what happens next?

The decision to postpone next month’s Six Nations match will cause chaos with the rugby calendar. Deciding when to play it again is just one of the big problems rugby’s top brass have to solve.

No fever in the Aviva: Italy game called off as a precaution.
No fever in the Aviva: Italy game called off as a precaution.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Will the game definitely be re-scheduled?

Without a doubt. Aside from the fact the IRFU’s financial model is dependent on the income it draws from internationals, you also have the small matter of a World Cup draw to come in November. Seedings for that are linked to world rankings, so the last thing Ireland want to risk is a tougher draw for the 2023 tournament on the back of a fixture not being fulfilled.

Right, so when will it be played?

That’s what the IRFU, Italian federation and Six Nations organisers are trying to figure out this afternoon. And there is no straightforward answer as the rugby calendar has already been mapped out.

Theoretically, you could re-schedule it for April or May, during a Pro14 weekend. However, that would require the blessing of Premiership Rugby, who are notoriously defensive of the club scene outside of international windows.

Three Italian players, Gloucester’s Jake Polledri and Callum Braley, plus Wasps’ wing Matteo Minozzi, would require a special dispensation.

Bearing this in mind, June becomes an option. Ireland have a two-week schedule to play Australia in July, but that leaves June 27 as a free date. Alternatively they could fit in the Italian game on July 25, a fortnight after Ireland return from their tour, a week after Italy play Argentina. Otherwise, you’re looking at the first three weeks of September. A betting man would put his money on June 27. There may be a Euro 2020 round of 16 soccer match scheduled for June 30 but that shouldn’t complicate things.

italy-celebrates-matteo-minozzis-try Matteo Minozzi is a key player for Italy and Wasps. Source: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

Surely England’s game with Italy is also in doubt now?

It certainly is. The question was even raised in the House of Commons today and the English RFU have confirmed they are in daily discussions with the Italian federation and Six Nations organisers about the possibility of a postponement. You’d imagine, although they haven’t said as much, that the RFU would like someone (such as the Foreign Office) to make the decision for them.

The Italian government has ordered some Serie A matches – not to mention Inter Milan’s Europa League game against Ludogorets tomorrow – to be played behind closed doors. However, the Italian federation, like Ireland, is financially dependent on the Six Nations to finance their various teams. They’d object to the closed-doors policy vehemently.  

Is this an overreaction?

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Here are the facts. Eleven people have died and more than 320 have contracted the virus in northern Italy. There are 11 Italian towns in lock-down. The virus is more widespread in Italy than anywhere else in Europe.

Has anything like this happened before?

In 2001, Ireland had three matches postponed during the foot and mouth crisis. They were replayed in September and October that year, when Ireland’s hopes of a grand slam were ended by Scotland. The difference now is the rugby calendar is a lot more congested than it was then.

Will it disrupt Ireland’s plans for their round five game against France?

It may actually help. While a three-week gap between fixtures isn’t ideal, it is preferable to going to Paris with a bruised and battered team. The French don’t have that luxury with Scotland their destination the week before Ireland arrive in Paris.

What impact will this have on the provinces?

Potentially a lot, especially on Ulster, who have seen John Cooney underemployed in the last month and know they can’t give him any game-time this weekend because their match with Benetton has been postponed. By the time he heads back to Belfast, he will be undercooked ahead of their big Champions Cup quarter-final in Toulouse on April 4.

So, in a nutshell, is there likely to be an easy answer to all this?

The formation of a new government may prove to be more straightforward.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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