Guinness PRO14 chiefs last night decided to suspend the 2019-20 season indefinitely, with the cross-border league going as far as to cancel its grand final, which had been set to take place in Cardiff on June 20.
The five-nation competition, in which Ireland’s four provinces compete alongside clubs and regions from Italy, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales, had initially responded to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak by suspending play until April 10, which meant the cancellation of two rounds of games.
The worsening situation across Europe, however, and further sporting cancellations affecting events stretching into May and beyond saw the board of the competition’s operating company, Celtic Rugby DAC, on which the Irish Rugby Football Union has representation, meet by teleconference this week.
That meeting saw the board agree on a strict list of criteria that would enable a return to action and also produced a further decision to cancel the PRO14 final at Cardiff City Stadium.
The PRO14 has promised to refund all those who had already purchased tickets and will make information on that process available on their website by the end of today.
In a statement issued yesterday evening, PRO14 Rugby pledged to review proposals regarding how to restart the 2019-20 season “in the near future”, although with cases of the virus rising daily and with no end in sight, these proposals will inevitably be contingencies only and subject to change with every week that passes.
“PRO14 Rugby is working with key stakeholders to carefully examine several proposals that can be implemented and delivered in order to close out the season — albeit at a later date.”
It also announced that any final played as part of the 2019/20 season “will be hosted by the team with highest-ranking based upon league records from this campaign”.
As that stands, that would mean Leinster, 20 points clear in Conference A on 61 points after 13 games and 14 clear of Conference B leaders Edinburgh, hosting the final, but the statement made clear that no decision on a definitive recommencement date can be made until its four key criteria are met in each of its five competing territories.
These were as follows:
“Public health authorities cease to prohibit the resumption of sport and group training.
“Travel restrictions between our territories are lifted.
“No forced isolation or quarantine orders are in force when visiting our territories.
“Player welfare is safeguarded, including requirement for a suitable pre-recommencement training period, to be established in conjunction with the high-performance personnel at our participating unions and teams.”
As it stands, with no PRO14 games having been played since March 1, there are still eight matches remaining in the regular season for most teams, including Connacht, Leinster, and Munster, while Ulster are one of four clubs with nine games to play.
The indications are, however, that PRO14 Rugby is considering a different way of concluding the season other than requiring its 14 clubs to complete its full schedule.
Such a solution will not be possible, however, without some negotiation taking place with other rugby stakeholders such as Heineken Champions Cup organisers EPCR, which earlier this week postponed its quarter-finals set for April 4-5 and will need three weekends to run off its knockout competition, with the semi-finals set for May 2-3 and the final still pencilled in for Marseille on May 23.
Ireland’s summer tour to Australia, with a two-Test series against the Wallabies set for Brisbane on July 4 and Sydney a week later, is also looking doubtful given measures being introduced by the Australian government, including a ban on any non-citizens from entering the country from 9pm tonight local time.
The rugby calendar was crowded before this pandemic and the task of finding a window in the schedule for every party to complete its games to their satisfaction will grow slimmer with every weekend that goes fallow.