Italy’s Six Nations encounter against England on March 14 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Tournament organisers faced the option of playing the game behind closed doors or delaying it until later in the year and have chosen the latter option.
Shaping the decision is the Italian Rugby Federation’s desire to retain the revenue generated by a lucrative home clash with Eddie Jones’ title hopefuls.
By staging the game behind closed doors, the cash-strapped union would have missed out on gate receipts for a 73,000 sell-out.
It is the second game of the 2020 Six Nations to be postponed after Ireland’s clash with Italy in Dublin on Saturday was also called off on public health grounds.
“The decision has now been taken to postpone the three matches between Italy and England (Men’s, Women’s, and U20) set to take place over the weekend of 13th/14th/15th March, with the intention to reschedule them at later dates,” a statement read.
“Based on the information that is currently available, all other Six Nations matches are set to go ahead as scheduled. As previously stated, Six Nations fully intends to complete all 15 games across all three championships when time allows. We will refrain from making any rescheduling announcements while we keep assessing the situation.
“Six Nations will continue to monitor developments with our unions and their respective governments and health authorities. We remain fully supportive of any preventative measures taken in the interests of overall public health in relation to the Coronavirus and we will respect instructions provided by government authorities and health organisations.”
🗣️ "At the outset we made it clear that the IRFU was supportive of the government's need to protect public health." #GuinnessSixNations
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) February 26, 2020
The decision comes after an Italian government decree issued on Wednesday night said Serie A matches would not be open to the public until April 3 in an attempt to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Italy is the European country most affected by the coronavirus with in excess of 3,000 people infected – a number that includes over 100 deaths. Eleven towns in northern Italy are in lockdown.
Six Nations organisers are being guided by government directives in deciding the fate of games and, in light of the decree, activated their contingency plan to find a new date for games affected by the virus.
As yet there is no indication whether the surviving four games of the competition are under threat.
Six Nations chiefs now face the challenge of finding a date to re-stage England’s visit to Rome knowing there is not much room in the calendar to accommodate the match.
The postponements mean it will be some time before a winner of the 2020 Six Nations is established.
England face Wales at Twickenham on Saturday needing victory to keep them in title contention.