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Australian travel restrictions set to scupper Ireland rugby tour reschedule



Contender: Argentina’s Augustin Pichot will run for World Rugby president

Contender: Argentina’s Augustin Pichot will run for World Rugby president

Contender: Argentina’s Augustin Pichot will run for World Rugby president

The prospect of Ireland's rugby tour of Australia going ahead this year has receded further amid reports Down Under that restrictions on travel there could last until the end of the year and even beyond.

Andy Farrell's men are scheduled to play two Tests in July.

Although those matches are now almost certainly off, it had been hoped that the countries could meet in October as part of an elongated Test window.

World Rugby are working to find a solution to the cash crisis brought about by the Covid-19 shutdown, but their contingencies will depend on governments easing their restrictions on movement and public gatherings.

If the reports in the Sydney Morning Herald prove correct, it would be a major blow to the coffers at Rugby Australia and also in the northern hemisphere where the Wallabies are due to tour in November.

The IRFU are already counting the cost of revenue lost from the postponed Six Nations matches and Leinster's European quarter-final against Saracens. One solution could see the Six Nations being extended to a home and away format, with games either side of Christmas.

Australia's Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham revealed that international travel restrictions could remain in place long after other measures to contain the spread of the virus have been lifted, perhaps even into 2021.

Any form of travel restrictions would also negate the 2020 Rugby Championship between Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.

Having already posted a deficit in excess of £5m for the past year, Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle warned that losing the entire slate planned for 2020 could cost more than £60m.

Meanwhile, World Rugby's elections next month will be contested after all following vice-president Agustin Pichot's declaration over the weekend that he will challenge incumbent Bill Beaumont for the top job.

Beaumont has former French coach Bernard Laporte - who made headlines last week with his mooted World Club Cup concept - as a running mate this time around with one-time Argentina captain Pichot opposing the man he has served under for the past four years.

Once considered a formality, the election on May 10 is now viewed as an intriguing battle.

"This is a critical election at a critical time for rugby," Pichot said as he released his manifesto.

The architect behind the doomed Nations Championship proposal abandoned last year, the former scrum-half would revisit that idea if elected, while also using the Covid-19 shutdown as a way to establish a long sought-after global calendar.

Often outspoken on issues such as the residency rule, Pichot has long called for a levelling of the playing field between Tier One and Tier Two nations while he has targeted untapped markets such as Brazil and Tunisia as areas where the game can grow.

Whoever ultimately takes World Rugby forward will have to deal with an unprecedented financial crisis as the sporting shutdown continues to wreak havoc on the global game, with USA Rugby having already declared themselves bankrupt.

Pichot announced he was running for the role on Twitter.

The 45-year-old claimed the crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak was an opportunity for "global realignment" of rugby.

Pichot, who also had a spell with Richmond in the late 1990s, wrote: "Women and men, we all fight for and believe in a fair, equal and more inclusive world. Do we? If so, it is time to make these dreams a reality for our sport, rugby.

"It is time to think of a sport where professional and commercial income is becoming a true benefit for all, by empowering rugby's growth around the world and by moving on from the time where those benefits were for just a few."

The former Pumas scrum-half added: "It is a critical time and a critical election. The current crisis is an opportunity for the global realignment of our game. We cannot miss it.

"It is time to align our global calendar and demonstrate our strategic intent to attract the sustainable investment we need, or risk falling back to individual hand-outs and rants in the absence of a long-term vision for a global game.

"It is time to change, to focus our attention, love and dedication to all unions and federations equally."

The election is due to be held next month.

Belfast Telegraph