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Ireland's vital autumn diary now in doubt as coronavirus set to cause more cancellations

 

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Changing plans: Andy Farrell

Changing plans: Andy Farrell

�INPHO/James Crombie

Signed up: Nathan Doak has joined the Ulster Academy

Signed up: Nathan Doak has joined the Ulster Academy

Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

Changing plans: Andy Farrell

Fresh doubt has been cast upon Ireland's schedule whenever the rugby season resumes with their autumn internationals now seemingly under threat.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has put sport into global lockdown, causing the suspension of the Six Nations, Champions Cup and PRO14 among others.

While even in a best-case scenario the 2019-20 competitions will be near impossible to complete in full, the knock-on effects now look set to wreak further havoc for Andy Farrell's men.

Due to tour Australia this summer for two Tests in July, Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle admitted yesterday that those games were now considered "highly unlikely" to go ahead.

While confirmation of that could come as early as this week, and certainly before the end of April, it is the loss of Super Rugby and Rugby Championship games that could bring about the cancellation of the planned third meeting between the Wallabies and Ireland this year.

Dave Rennie's side are due to arrive in Dublin in November for the first of three autumn internationals which are vital for boosting the IRFU's coffers each season.

However, Castle’s comments yesterday raised serious doubts over whether that trip will go ahead.

With television contracts for Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship vital sources of income for the cash-strapped Australian union, fulfilling those deals — whenever the games can be played — will take precedence over any trip north in the autumn.

“The July Test matches are looking less and less likely as the days go by but that will ultimately be a decision that is made in consultation with World Rugby,” Castle said as she announced an almost £4.6m loss for the year 2019.

“It’s multi-faceted, there are the conversations that will happen at a World Rugby level so we can think about if July doesn’t go ahead, which seems highly unlikely now, and the reciprocal window is available at the back end of this year.

“Whether that means Australia going north to play those games or whether there are other elements that we need to consider to look after sponsors and broadcasters to deliver content.

“At the back end of the year delivering Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship might be something we need to consider doing.

“There are those elements around the calendar from a World Rugby point of view.”

If Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship were to be pushed into a later window, it would not just be the Australia visit to Dublin that would come into question with world champions South Africa also set for the Aviva Stadium a week later.

While losing those games would seemingly provide an opportunity to finish off the abandoned Six Nations — Ireland must still host Italy and travel to France — the loss of any home fixtures would have a disastrous economic effect on the IRFU’s budget at a time when players and staff have already agreed to a wage deferral plan to begin in April.

Belfast Telegraph