Officials from all Six Nations Championship countries will meet in Paris on Monday to discuss the rescheduling of Ireland’s postponed fixture against Italy and the fate of the remainder of the tournament.
A World Rugby meeting in the French capital next week will be used as a convenient moment to discuss when Ireland could meet Italy and whether further games — such as England’s trip to Rome on March 14 — need to be called off.
It is unlikely that any more games will be postponed before this meeting, unless any of the competing nations’ governments issue a directive not to travel.
Irish health minister Simon Harris recommended that the Azzurri’s trip to Dublin (along with the two countries’ Under-20 and Women’s Championship matches) next weekend be cancelled, with Irish Rugby officials carrying out that request.
Last weekend’s women’s meeting between Italy and Scotland was also postponed.
The situation has thrown doubt over whether the Championship will end incomplete for the first time since 1972, when the escalating political situation in Northern Ireland resulted in Wales and Scotland not travelling to Dublin.
This year’s tournament had been bubbling towards a fine final weekend, with unbeaten France competing with England and Ireland for the title.
The first postponement has thrown that into disarray, but there is little choice but to complete the tournament at some stage.
The window for earning world ranking points ahead of the next World Cup draw closes in November, meaning Ireland and England will be particularly desperate to fulfil their fixtures against Italy.
Rome is not as yet affected by the outbreak, but the RFU are still monitoring the situation, with a particular eye on the Women’s and U-20 fixtures, which take place further north in the country, where some towns are in quarantine lockdown.
Rather than be postponed, games could be played behind closed doors or have their locations moved.
A solution is required promptly for England men’s game in Rome, with as many as 20,000 fans set to travel for the match.
If England were to have a game rescheduled, there is a provision in the Professional Game Agreement — which dictates when the RFU have access to Premiership players — that means head coach Eddie Jones will be able to call on all his players. Whether the same would be true of Italy is unclear.
Convenient dates, though, are thin on the ground. The first weekend without Premiership or Pro14 matches is June 27, but that is when summer tours begin. Ireland travel to Australia, England to Japan and Italy to the Americas.
That could mean teams are unable to play games until the end of July. There is a precedent for health issues leading to Six Nations postponements, with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 seeing three games played in the autumn.
This is the second time in a few months that rugby has been thrown into cancellation chaos. At last year’s World Cup, three matches were called off due to deadly Typhoon Hagibis, which killed almost 100 people in Japan.
Meanwhile, the RFU have confirmed England’s schedule for this year’s autumn internationals, with Tonga joining New Zealand, Argentina and Australia for fixtures at Twickenham.
England open the series against New Zealand on November 7.