Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Real Challenge Begins Now as Chiefs Face Fixture Headache; Coverage in Association With

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Real Challenge Begins Now as Chiefs Face Fixture Headache; Coverage in Association With

Article excerpt

Byline: RUGBY Will Macpherson

DO not for a second suggest that this has been a shy, retiring year in rugby.

There has been a brilliant World Cup, which saw games cancelled due to a deadly typhoon, and the greatest club side of the age were humiliated and relegated for cheating.

Now the Six Nations needs to find time later this year to replay games cancelled due to a global health crisis. All this before we mention the names of Israel Folau and Rob Howley or the words "Championship cuts".

It goes without saying, at remarkable times like these, rugby and sport are trifling matters. This will not be the last sport affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Public health comes first.

If there are any surprises, it is that there are still only two games called off and that we have had to wait as long as today for the expected announcement that England's game in Italy, the worst affected country in Europe, is off.

From the moment when the Irish government said last week that their game against Italy in Dublin this Saturday should not go ahead, the writing has seemed on the wall. How could Italians not be allowed to watch a game in Ireland, then English people pile into Rome and the close confines of Stadio Olimpico? After meeting in Paris on Monday, rugby authorities have been simply waiting for someone more senior -- a government, basically -- to tell them to call games off. That arrived yesterday when the Italian government ordered that all sports events in the country would have to take place behind closed doors until April 3. That left the tournament organisers with one simple decision: accept going behind closed doors, or postpone.

The Six Nations could surely not be played behind closed doors. It is a fan's event, about atmosphere, colour and rather more than rugby.

But more pressing, naturally, for the authorities are commercial imperatives: Italy need the gate receipts. An England visit is a biennial boon for any union, with thousands of fans pouring into the city, most of them with considerable appetite for the local delicacies. …

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