Coronavirus: English rugby union’s Premiership set to suspend season

Sunday’s Premiership Rugby Cup final between Sale and Harlequins has been postponed

England’s Premiership is set to announce a postponement to the league season in the coming days because of the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes after leagues, including rugby union’s Pro 14 and Top 14, confirmed last week they would be suspending games for the foreseeable future.

Clubs will discuss a number of next steps on Monday, including a four-week suspension of play.

However, some clubs feel a longer break of 10 or 12 weeks is necessary.

European Cup competitions are set to be postponed in the next 24 hours.

European tournament organisers EPCR will meet via video link on Monday to rubber-stamp the move.

‘Premiership continuation unfeasible’

Following the escalation of the virus outbreak last week, the only English top-flight fixture in the calendar had been Sunday’s Premiership Cup final between Sale and Harlequins.

This was postponed on Friday after a Harlequins staff member reported flu-like symptoms.

While the RFU and Premiership Rugby have been prepared to follow governmental advice on the staging of sporting events and mass gatherings, sources at the English clubs have indicated that a continuation of the league season in the current climate is unfeasible.

As a result, Premiership clubs will discuss several possible next steps, including the four-week suspension, a longer break or continuing to play until government advice on mass gatherings changes.

“The welfare of fans, players and staff is our first concern and it’s crucial to get these important decisions right,” said a Premiership Rugby spokesperson.

“We are working closely with our own medical experts, DCMS and Public Health England, and our clubs. That advice will allow us and our clubs to make a well-informed decision in the coming days.”

Meanwhile, RFU-sanctioned club rugby union continued over the weekend, although three Championship matches were called off because of precautions over coronavirus.

What happens next?

All Premiership Rugby teams are down to be in action next weekend, with nine rounds of matches still to play before the scheduled semi-finals and final in June.

Exeter lead after 13 games, and one source told BBC Sport that they should be “given the title with an asterisk”.

Two rounds of Premiership action are scheduled before the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup quarter-finals on 3, 4 and 5 April.

With the Pro 14 and France having suspended their competitions, a postponement of those eight European matches is inevitable and will be confirmed at Monday’s board meeting.

“The EPCR board will meet by conference call on Monday afternoon to discuss next steps for European club rugby tournaments this season after gathering all information from leagues, unions and local authorities,” said an EPCR spokesperson.

The semi-finals of both European cups are scheduled for the weekend of 1, 2 and 3 May, with the finals weekend in Marseille on 22 and 23 June.

There remains a hope within Premiership Rugby that the season might be concluded in June, depending on the development of the virus in the coming weeks and months.

One possibility would be to call each cancelled fixture a 0-0 draw with a sharing of points, as was the case during the Rugby World Cup when matches were called off because of Typhoon Hagibis.

The Premiership semi-finals are scheduled for 12-14 June, with the final at Twickenham on Saturday, 20 June.

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