I’m starting to get the sneaking suspicion that this season is going to be one of those seasons defined as much by events on the pitch as the rugby played on it. In ten years’ time, people are going to look back on the 2019/20 season and not say ‘Oh, wasn’t that the year that X won the Premiership and then lost in the final of the Champions Cup to Z?’ It won’t be a year defined by break-out stars or ailing veterans; instead it will be remembered as the year that, off the pitch, everything went a little bit mental.
I mean, obviously, there’s the salary cap fiasco – but we’ve all spoken, written, and read enough about that so we’ll just take that as read. And then, in recent weeks the news about RFU cutting the funding for Championship clubs by up to 50% sent shockwaves around English rugby; potentially marking the moment that the RFU dropped all pretences of caring about anything other than rugby’s top-tier. And now, and now, rugby is starting to feel the effects of what has been the defining topic of conversation since the start of the year: coronavirus.
It’s quite right that coronavirus (or Covid-19 if you want its official categorisation) is all anyone’s spoken about for the last couple of months. It’s scary, it’s serious, and with the first cases of being found in Sub-Saharan Africa this morning one gets the feeling this isn’t the sort of thing that is just going to blow over; and now it’s affecting the rugby.
On Wednesday Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, having met with IRFU, confirmed that Ireland’s game versus Italy in Dublin this weekend would be postponed, whilst it could look very likely that England’s away trip to Rome on the last week of the season could be postponed, too.
A statement by the Six Nations organisers has confirmed that currently all other matches scheduled are to go ahead but that they are “fully supportive” of the postponement.
“We will continue to monitor the situation very closely with all unions and the respective government authorities and health organisations,” it followed.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, the BBC’s rugby union correspondent Christ Jones has said this puts the Six Nations “in a state of limbo.” This is very much true. Postponed games, in today’s hectic rugby calendar, are very hard to rearrange.
Back in 2001, Ireland had three home Six Nations fixtures postponed because due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and these were rearranged for October that year – but this will most likely not be feasible in this year’s calendar.
Should the games be cancelled rather than postponed, who knows what could happen? Would the games be awarded as 0-0 draws, would the Championships be cancelled completely, or will they try and slot in the games throughout the next 12 months – turning this Six Nations into a sort of year-long tournament?
It’s anyone’s guess, but it certainly adds another bizarre twist to this year’s chaotic season.
By Will Sewell.