World Rugby announces postponement of July tests

WELLINGTON (AP) – World Rugby has postponed July test matches involving southern and northern hemisphere nations because of ongoing restrictions on international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sport’s international governing body issued a statement yesterday saying the mid-year test window will be rescheduled when cross-border travel and quarantine regulations are relaxed.

New Zealand had been scheduled to play Wales and Scotland, Australia was set to play Ireland and Fiji and Rugby World Cup champion South Africa had planned to host Scotland and Georgia. Japan was set to play a test against Wales and two against England in its first internationals since hosting the World Cup last year. World Rugby said the decision to shutter the July international window was made because of “ongoing government and health agency COVID-19 directives”.

“Extended travel and quarantine restrictions that apply to numerous countries and concerns over adequate player preparation time mean that any sort of cross-border international rugby competition cannot be hosted in July,” World Rugby said.

The Super Rugby season was suspended in March, but participating countries are planning domestic tournaments to off-set the lost provincial games. New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams will play a 10-week competition starting next month, and Australia’s Super Rugby clubs are aiming for a July re-start.

Hurricanes Vaea Fifita runs at the Crusaders defence during the Super Rugby semifinal between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes in Christchurch, New Zealand in this 2019 file photo. PHOTO: AP

In terms of test matches, World Rugby said it will continue to monitor the potential impact on the remaining 2020 international windows.

It said consultation would take place with member unions, professional clubs and the International Rugby Players Association “with a view to achieving an aligned calendar for the remainder of the year”.

October is shaping as a potential time to stage the postponed matches. Strict lockdown measures are being gradually eased in New Zealand and Australia from this week, and there’s been talk of resuming travel between the neighbouring countries in a so-called “Tasman bubble”.

South Africa Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux said any rescheduling of the tests “will have player health, welfare and appropriate return-to-play protocols at heart”.