By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON, May 15 (Reuters) – World Rugby has postponed all rugby union test matches scheduled for July because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global governing body said on Friday.
Most cross border and domestic club competitions have been suspended since March as countries moved to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the July test window had long been under threat with many nations expecting games to be postponed.
Travel bans, strict quarantine protocols and player safety concerns meant “cross border international rugby competition cannot be hosted in July”, World Rugby said in a statement.
It was too early to determine whether matches in the November window would be affected at this stage, WR said, with a decision contingent on advice from governments and health organisations.
South Africa Rugby Chief Executive Jurie Roux said health concerns were the priority.
“Any solution will have player health, welfare and appropriate return-to-play protocols at heart,” Roux said in a statement.
“It would be inappropriate to comment on potential solutions during a fluid and important consultation process.”
World champions South Africa were due to host Scotland and Georgia in July.
New Zealand were due to host Wales and Scotland but may now look at playing more games against neighbours Australia later in the year with both countries having slowed COVID-19 cases to a trickle.
“From a New Zealand point of view, we are taking a pragmatic approach to the international test programme,” NZ Rugby Chief Executive Mark Robinson said in a statement.
“We are working hard to explore any and every opportunity … and watching with keen interest any Government discussions on a possible trans-Tasman bubble with Australia.”
The Wallabies had tests against Ireland and Fiji scheduled for July, while World Cup runners-up England were due to return to Japan for two matches.
“It is a pity that we cannot start this year’s Japan national team matches, because we lost a valuable opportunity to play Wales and England,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said in a statement.
“However, considering the global coronavirus infection situation, it is unavoidable, and it is now time to stay at home and with family.”
(Additional reporting by Nick Said in Cape Town and Jack Tarrant in Tokyo; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
((Greg.Stutchbury@thomsonreuters.com; +64 4 802-8162;))
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