CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – The scheduled ‘Super Saturday’ finale of the 2020 Six Nations Championship will now see just the match between Wales and Scotland going ahead after the coronavirus pandemic ripped up sporting schedules around the world.
This weekend’s fixtures between France and Ireland in Paris and Italy and England in Rome have been postponed as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, with last week’s match between Ireland and Italy in Dublin going the same way.
No new dates have yet been announced for the delayed games, with officials now having to find gaps in rugby union’s already congested schedule.
It may be the Championship cannot now be completed until October at the earliest.
That could mean teams such as England having to play Tests on five successive weekends given their November programme, a prospect that raises player-welfare concerns.
But with Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix scrapped, basketball’s NBA halted indefinitely, Spain’s La Liga and the ATP tennis tour put on hold and rugby union’s own cross-border Pro14 club competition suspended, Six Nations chiefs will be glad that at least one game is still ‘on’ today.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday a ban on major United Kingdom public events, including sports fixtures, was being “considered”.
Significantly, however, no such ban has yet been put in place.
The British government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance, defended the policy, which could see a crowd of over 70,000 at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, when many smaller gatherings are being postponed or cancelled outright.
“On average, one person infects two or three others,” Vallance said.
“You therefore have a very low probability of infecting a large number of people in a stadium and a rather higher probability of infecting people very close to you.
“And that means that most of the transmission actually tends to take place with friends and colleagues and those in close environments – and not in the big environments.”
Meanwhile, Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones is set to equal the world record for most international appearances today.
Jones’ 148th Test, a tally that includes nine internationals for the British and Irish Lions, will see the 34-year-old lock draw level with retired former New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, the All Blacks’ World Cup-winning skipper in 2011 and 2015.
“Alun Wyn is one of the most iconic figures in the game, he is our leader and I am delighted for him as he continues to set the bar across the game,” said Wales coach Wayne Pivac.
This has been a tricky first season at the helm for Pivac, who succeeded Warren Gatland after his fellow New Zealander took Wales to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup.
Defeat today would mean Wales had lost four successive Championship matches for the first time since 2007.
Pivac has responded to last week’s 33-30 reverse against England at Twickenham by making four changes to his side, with experienced scrum-half Rhys Webb, lock Cory Hill, uncapped prop WillGriff John and fellow front-rower Wyn Jones all coming into the starting XV.
By contrast Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, under pressure after not playing Finn Russell this tournament following the highly-publicised breakdown of his relationship with the gifted fly-half, will arrive in the Welsh capital following his side’s back-to-back wins over Italy and France, with last week’s 28-17 home success at Murrayfield denying ‘Les Bleus’ a Grand Slam.
Victory would mean Scotland had won three consecutive Championship matches for the first time since the 1996 Five Nations, as well as securing their first win in Cardiff for 18 years, when Townsend was their fly-half in a 27-22 success.
“We set out this season to improve our consistency over a run of five tough games, something we have done well so far,” said Townsend, who has changed a winning side by making three alterations to his pack.