Coronavirus: Ireland-Italy match is called off, IRFU confirms

Six Nations match scheduled for March 7th will not take place amid virus fears

The IRFU has confirmed the Ireland-Italy Six Nations match in Dublin scheduled for March 7th is called off, amid concerns over coronavirus.

Rugby's ruling body confirmed the move following a meeting on Wednesday with Minister for Health Simon Harris.

In a statement following the meeting, the IRFU said the National Public Health Emergency team had determined that the match should not proceed, in the interests of public health.

It said it hoped to try to reschedule the match and would provide an update in the coming days.


Mr Harris had earlier said that the IRFU could consider holding the Ireland-Italy match behind closed doors.

“If that’s a practical option of course it would be considered,” Mr Harris said on Wednesday morning in advance of the meeting with IRFU officials.

On Tuesday, Mr Harris said based on the recommendation of his public health officials the match scheduled to take place on March 7th should not proceed, due to the spread of coronavirus in Italy.

The IRFU had sought specific reasons for the recommendation before agreeing to postpone the fixture.

Mr Harris said he was more than happy to talk to the sports body but said: “I’m not the Minister for Sport, and it’s not my job to get involved in relation to rugby fixtures or sporting tournaments. It’s my job to impart the public health advice in relation to trying to contain the spread of the virus.”

In relation to other mass gatherings, the Minister said guidelines were being drawn up based on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help guide the organisers of such events.

Minister for Sport Shane Ross had warned the Government will cancel more sporting fixtures if it is necessary to prevent the coronavirus outbreak reaching Ireland.

Mr Ross said that if the Department of Health, which was taking the lead on the Government's response to the outbreak, took the view that Ireland's Six Nations rugby match against Italy on March 7th should be called off, then his department would go along with that view.

“The IRFU [Irish Rugby Football Union] has already said that they will take advice from the Government,” Mr Ross told The Irish Times.

“It is a health issue rather than a transport or sport or any other issue, but we will take whatever step is necessary,” said the Minister for Sport.

“I mean it would be terrible if we had to cancel a lot of matches, but if it is necessary, we will do it.”

Dr Tony Holohan, the Department of Health's chief medical officer, said the rugby match would result in a number of people travelling from an affected region and there would be a "high risk of cases being imported" from Italy, where there has been an outbreak of the virus.

Italy has reported more than 300 cases of coronavirus and 11 deaths in the northern part of the country in recent days. The virus has also been exported from Italy to neighbouring countries and to Spain.


The Minister said that his decision to call for the postponement of the match was “not taken lightly but we must act on the basis of public health advice”.

While Mr Harris said “no definitive viewpoint” had been reached by the National Public Health Emergency Team on other mass gatherings, officials plan to liaise with the organisers of larger events in the coming days, he said. An expert group is to be set up to risk assess events on public health grounds, based on internationally-accepted criteria.

Mr Ross said the cancellation would have a “bad effect” on tourism over the weekend of the rugby fixture but that there were “bigger issues which obviously have to be a priority.”

The Minister said the St Patrick’s Day events and the visitors due to come to the country next month posed “a health issue again”, but people were not necessarily coming from affected areas.

“I suppose if they’re coming from those areas we would be taking the same precautions but it’s difficult to know,” said Mr Ross.

“It is fragile at the moment because obviously it could get much worse, in which case we would have to take more dramatic measures.”

His department and the Department of Health were in daily contact on what should be done, he said.

“The immediate flashpoint is the Italian game. That’s the point which is worrying people,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times