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Ireland's crunch clash with Italy falls victim to virus fear


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Irish health minister Simon Harris explained that the game, which is due to be held at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on March 7, would "constitute a significant risk" due to the outbreak of the deadly virus

Irish health minister Simon Harris explained that the game, which is due to be held at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on March 7, would "constitute a significant risk" due to the outbreak of the deadly virus

PA Wire/PA Images

Irish health minister Simon Harris explained that the game, which is due to be held at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on March 7, would "constitute a significant risk" due to the outbreak of the deadly virus

Ireland's Six Nations clash with Italy looks set to be called off after the Irish government declared the game should not go ahead due to concerns over the risk posed by the coronavirus.

Irish health minister Simon Harris explained that the game, which is due to be held at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on March 7, would "constitute a significant risk" due to the outbreak of the deadly virus.

However, the IRFU have issued a statement in response claiming that they will first seek an audience with government representatives before making a decision on whether or not the match should be played.

China has reported 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths following the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus that has spread to many countries, including Italy where authorities have put in restrictions.

With the Italian team due to visit Dublin on Saturday week, the Department of Health in the Republic's National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the game be postponed following a meeting yesterday.

Health minister Harris said: "The very clear view of the Public Health Emergency Team was that this game should not go ahead and that it would constitute a significant risk, because a very large number of people will be travelling from what is now an affected region.

"So my department will be contacting the IRFU in relation to this. I know (it will) cause a great disappointment to many, but it is important to make decisions in relation to public health above and beyond all other considerations."

The IRFU responded last night, saying: "The IRFU is seeking an urgent meeting with Minister Harris as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation of the Ireland v Italy Six Nations fixture in the context of the government's overall travel policy to and from Italy and other affected countries."

The IRFU's statement continued: "Until such time as the IRFU has had contact with the Minister and gets an understanding of the government's strategic policy on travel to and from Ireland and the cancellation of mass gatherings, it is not in a position to comment further."

Other rugby fixtures have already been affected by the coronavirus, with Ulster's Guinness PRO14 game against Benetton in Treviso on Saturday postponed due to its impact in the local area, as has the Ospreys' trip to Parma to face Zebre.

When Ireland's game against the Italians would be rescheduled for is unclear, with no free weekends available before the end of the Six Nations on March 14, opening up the possibility of extending the tournament.

Meanwhile, Ireland prop Cian Healy will miss the remainder of the Six Nations with the hip problem he sustained in Saturday's 24-12 defeat by England.

Healy was forced off in the first half at Twickenham with an injury head coach Andy Farrell described as a "jarred hip" and a scan has revealed the extent of the damage.

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The 32-year-old is missing from a 28-man squad that will assemble in Dublin today for a two-day camp.

Healy is Ireland's first-choice loosehead and the setback means he has been robbed of the chance to reach 100 caps in this Six Nations.

The Twickenham outing was his 98th and he would have expected to have accumulated two more in the remaining games against Italy and France.

Lions and Ulster second-row Ian Henderson returns to the squad having been withdrawn from the team to face England because of the birth of his son.


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