IRFU not consulted prior to Minister Harris’ recommendation to cancel Ireland v Italy

Union will meet with Minister after he made the statement on Six One news

Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony in action during Ireland’s last Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony in action during Ireland’s last Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The IRFU will meet with Minster for Health Simon Harris before any decision is taken to postpone Ireland’s Six Nations Championship clash with Italy at the Aviva stadium on Saturday week because of coronavirus concerns.

It is believed that the union only learned of the Minster Harris’ recommendation that the game be postponed when he made a statement on the RTÉ Six One news on Tuesday evening with no prior notification and are seeking clarification on a number of issues.

Among them is the fact that roughly 2,500 tickets have been sold to Italian supporters and the union would be keen to establish what arrangements are in place if some supporters decided to travel irrespective of whether the match goes ahead or not.

There are also daily flights to Dublin from the affected areas in Italy as things stand. Several regions in Northern Italy, where the game of rugby is predominantly played, have been badly affected by the coronavirus, with over 200 people diagnosed so far.

Urgent meeting

The IRFU’s statement read: “The IRFU is seeking an urgent meeting with Minister Harris as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation of the Ireland v Italy Six Nations fixture in the context of the Government’s overall travel policy to and from Italy and other affected countries.

“Until such time as the IRFU has had contact with the Minister and gets an understanding of the government’s strategic policy on travel to and from Ireland and the cancellation of mass gatherings, it is not in a position to comment further.”

A few hours later, Minister Harris tweeted to confirm the meeting, saying: "Pleased to confirm I will meet with the IRFU in the morning. Today’s decision was not taken lightly but we must act on the basis of public health advice."

The Ireland Under-20 team is due to take on their Italian counterparts in Musgrave Park, Cork on Friday, March 6th while the Ireland Women’s team is also in action on Sunday, March 8th at Energia Park, Donnybrook and those matches would also have to be postponed. The Italian national teams haven’t been able to train in recent days and are unlikely to do so before Sunday at the earliest.

The IRFU has been in contact with Six Nations Rugby, the tournament organisers, and the Italian Rugby Federation to keep them up to date with developments.

Six Nations Rugby released a statement that read: “Six Nations is aware of today’s (Tuesday) recommendation from the Irish Health Minister in relation to the upcoming Six Nations Championship match between Ireland and Italy on Saturday March, 7th.

“The IRFU has sought an urgent meeting with the Irish Government to discuss the matter further and we will remain in close contact with them regarding the outcome of those discussions.”

Foot & Mouth

The last Six Nations game involving Ireland to be postponed was in 2012 when the away game with France was called off shortly before kick-off due to a frozen pitch at Saint-Denis.

It has echoes of the 2001 Foot & Mouth crisis, an infectious livestock disease that originated in Britain, forcing the postponement of Ireland’s Six Nations matches against Scotland, Wales and England until September and October of that year from their normal place in the spring sporting calendar.

Ireland had beaten Italy and France in the first two matches of the championship but then lost to Scotland 32-10 in the first of the postponed games in September. They followed it up with a facile 36-6 win away to Wales before denying England a Grand Slam at Lansdowne Road with a 20-14 victory on October 20th. Ireland lost the Six Nations on points’ difference to England.

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