WELLINGTON, New Zealand — 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 Friday saying the mid-year test window will be rescheduled when cross-border travel and quarantine regulations are relaxed.
The decision means Canada will not host Italy in Winnipeg on July 11. A July 4 match against the French Barbarians in Montreal was called off in April.
"Obviously we were very much looking forward to playing Italy this summer in Halifax," Canada coach Kingsley Jones said in a statement. "We didn't get the result we wanted against Italy at (the) Rugby World Cup in Japan (where Canada lost 48-7), so it was great for our team to have another opportunity against them so soon.
"However, we completely support this decision as the safety of the teams, staff, and fans must remain Rugby Canada's top priority. We thank the Italian Rugby Federation and wish them all the best as we all navigate through this pandemic."
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.
In terms of test matches, World Rugby said it will continue to monitor the potential impact on the remaining 2020 international windows.
Canada is due to start play in the Americas Rugby Championship in August.
World Rugby 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 a shaping as a potential time to stage the postponed matches. Strict lock down 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.”
As for the future timing, Roux said it would be “inappropriate to comment of potential solutions during a fluid and important consultation process.”
The New Zealand All Blacks had been scheduled play Wales at Auckland on July 4, at Wellington on July 11 and Scotland at Dunedin on July 18.
“With so much uncertainty around international travel because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the decision was really taken out of our hands,” NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said. "From a New Zealand point of view, we are taking a pragmatic approach to the international test program.
"We are working hard to explore any and every opportunity to play All Blacks tests as well as Black Ferns (women's) tests this year and watching with keen interest any government discussions on a possible trans-Tasman (travel) bubble with Australia.”
The June or July test window is an established part of the international rugby season, when European nations travel south for test series and when tournaments such as the Pacific Nations Cup are played, involving Pacific Island nations and Japan, Canada and the United States.
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— With files from The Canadian Press.