The IRFU has postponed Ireland’s Six Nations matches against Italy, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The games were due to take place in the first week of March.
The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has jumped to 400. This represents a 25% surge in the last 24 hours.
The worst-affected areas in Italy are in the industrial north of the country - Lombardy, the region around Milan, and Veneto near Venice.
The Irish Women's team were due to play Italy at Energia Park on March 8th, while the Men's team were due to play Italy at the Aviva Stadium on March 7th.
The IRFU made their decision following a meeting with health minister Simon Harris. They were advised that The National Public Health Emergency team did not think the matches should go ahead, in the interest of public safety.
The IRFU said they were “happy to comply” with the government. They hope to reschedule the matches, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
They have asked fans to hold on to their tickets for now. They said they will provide ticket holders with tickets for the rescheduled games or a refund.
Yesterday, the minister said he welcomed the recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency team to cancel the matches “in the interest of public health.”
Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, Dr. Tony Holohan said cancelling the matches was “justified in exceptional circumstances.”
“Today’s recommendation to cancel the series of Ireland v Italy rugby matches is based on the rapidly evolving nature of the outbreak in northern Italy, and the consequent risk of importation of cases into Ireland were the match to go ahead.”
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ireland. The Department of Health has said that 90 people have been tested in Ireland so far, but all the results have come back negative.
This isn't unprecedented. In 2001, the Cheltenham Festival was abandoned after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease which swept the UK. A week later, the Irish Men's rugby team had three of their outstanding games postponed. They were replayed in September and October that year.
Similarly in this case, it’s likely that the fixtures will be re-scheduled for the next possible opportunity.
The IRFU, Italian federation and Six Nations officials met this afternoon to discuss possibilities.
With a European qualification tournament for the 2021 Rugby World Cup due to take place in September later this year, we can expect for the match to be arranged for the next possible opportunity.