Ireland set for six Tests in seven weeks from October 24th

World Rugby Council approved a temporary change to Regulation 9 to facilitate matches

As expected, Test rugby is set to return over an extended seven-week period after the World Rugby Council approved a temporary adjustment to Regulation 9 in order to accommodate the release of international players for revised 2020 windows.

A statement by World Rugby today, Thursday, confirmed that: “The adjustment to the regulation has been approved as a temporary measure to mitigate the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on global rugby activities and provides a welcome boost for players, teams, fans, and broadcast and commercial partners.

“Approval follows extensive and productive dialogue between the sport’s major stakeholders, balancing the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare to determine a schedule that will optimise the immediate financial recovery and funding of the sport at all levels.”

The temporarily extended window in the southern hemisphere will run from October 24th to December 5th, encompassing a rest week after the re-arranged 2020 Guinness Six Nations men’s and women’s games and before the four-week programme of matches being put together by the Six Nations, which is expected to include the participation of Japan and Fiji.

To accommodate a revised and truncated Rugby Championship to be held over six weeks in New Zealand, the window in the northern hemisphere will run from November to the second weekend in December.

The World Rugby statement added: “With Covid-19 restrictions continuing to impact transcontinental travel and entry requirements, on an exceptional basis The Rugby Championship 2020 will take place over a reduced six-week period between 7 November and the second week in December with SANZAAR having asked New Zealand to host. Special measures will need to be implemented to deal with any government-required isolation period prior to the start of the competition.”

Only on foot of World Rugby Council approving the temporary extension of Regulation 9 can the Six Nations press ahead with finalising the re-arranged games from the 2020 tournament which were postponed in February.

It is expected that the Ireland v Italy game at the Aviva Stadium on October 24th, followed by the concluding round five fixtures on October 31st, including Ireland’s meeting with France in Paris, along with the corresponding games in the women’s championship, will be confirmed next week.

Ditto the proposed four-week tournament to replace the November Tests, which will see Ireland, England, Wales and Fiji in one group, with France, Scotland, Italy and Japan in the other.

All this information has thus far been “leaked” with no official pronouncements from the Six Nations, who are effectively organising this one-off tournament, with World Rugby acting as facilitators.

Now, in light of the World Rugby Council extending the Test window, they can fast-track plans, and details of these games are likely to be confirmed next month. There isn’t much time to arrange the fixtures and agree broadcasting and sponsorship deals, but then again so little can be planned far in advance in the current climate.

The World Rugby statement added: “The current Regulation 9 windows will return to normal after the conclusion of the temporary calendar. All parties, including unions, club competitions and players, remain committed to continued dialogue regarding the long-term harmonisation of the international calendar for the betterment of all.

“The rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019/20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September. The process also reflects the ambition to minimise impact on the EPCR and English Premiership finals matches.

“World Rugby is also liaising with emerging unions to explore where it can assist with a programme of fixtures where COVID-19 restrictions permit.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The global Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in its impact on society and sport and, throughout this process, all parties have sought to deliver the best-possible outcome to support the interests of international and club rugby and the players.

“Agreement and approval of this schedule is exciting for players and fans and an important step in supporting our unions in mitigating financial impact and optimising the sport’s return from the pandemic in an equitable way.

“These matches will be greatly anticipated by all, and I would like to thank unions, the international and club competitions and players for their input and the fans for their patience as we have sought to get international rugby back up and running.”

World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte added: “Today represents an important day for our sport as the first steps towards recovery from the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“This has been no small effort and there have been many conversations, but the position approved by Council today represents the best interests of the global game and I look forward to seeing the world’s best players doing what they do best back on the international stage.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times