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Rugby season dealt further blow as France extend sporting shutdown

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Ulster had been due to take on Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

Ulster had been due to take on Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

�INPHO/Presseye/Pascal Pavani

Ulster had been due to take on Toulouse in the quarter-finals.

The rugby season has been thrown into further chaos after the French government announced that the professional sport season would not be allowed to resume before September.

Ulster are due to take on Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-final but the timeline for the tournament and even the chances of it resuming are now increasingly uncertain.

Top 14 organisers are expected to release a statement shortly, as they outline their plans to continue to adhere to the guidelines set out as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Just last week, the National Rugby League (LNR) were forced to cancel the Top 14 semi-finals and final, which were set for June and July, but they had hoped to reschedule the games for August.

This afternoon, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said:

"The 2019-2020 season of professional sports, especially that of football, will not be able to resume... major sporting events cannot be held before September."

It remains to be seen if the Top 14 season will be scrapped in favour of a fresh campaign for 2020/21.

Given the complications that will arise from cross-border competitions, it is looking increasingly likely that the Irish provinces will play an inter-pro series, most likely behind closed doors, at some stage in the coming months.

With several international Tests, the European Cups, and domestic leagues all currently in limbo, the powers that be are facing unprecedented headaches.

"Minefield is the right analogy," Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster said this week.

"With international rugby alongside domestic rugby and every stakeholder within that: French league, English league, PRO14, Europe. There's no doubt it is going to be very tricky to navigate a way through this and satisfy all stakeholders," he said of the competing interests.

"There will have to be compromise from everyone. I understand the international and the club opinion.

"Whatever pathway they take the players have to be at the centre of any decisions they make. The danger is that everyone tries to put everything into a very small window or into a window that extends for a whole 12-month period.

"There has to be common sense applied as well. The only way we will solve everything is by everyone giving a bit of ground in order to move the game forward. It is also a personal chance to recalibrate what the global game looks like and this is probably the best chance to do it."

Belfast Telegraph