Ireland’s Six Nations’ trip to Paris next weekend is on course to go ahead as scheduled despite concern over the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The French Rugby Federation (FFR) tonight confirmed that the game is set to go ahead, despite France having the second-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Europe, after Italy.
Earlier, the Health Ministry reported 423 confirmed cases, with seven fatalities, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to warn: “We’ll be moving into a new phase in the next few days. We are still in phase two, trying to slow down the Covid-19 epidemic. We will undoubtedly pass in the next few days into a new phase, when the virus will be more widespread across all regions.”
However, the FFR said in a statement: “Gatherings organised in open-air venues such as sporting events played in large stadiums like the France v Ireland fixtures on 13, 14 and 15 March will go ahead as long as it does not lead to the mixing of populations from areas where the Covid-19 virus is circulating.”
A number of French sporting events have already been affected by the spread of the virus. The Paris Marathon, which would have seen 65,000 runners on the French capital’s streets on April 5, is the latest likely victim. It is expected to be postponed until the autumn, while last Sunday’s Paris Half-Marathon was cancelled at the last minute after the government banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined areas.
The restriction on crowds, which was issued early Saturday afternoon, did not stop the weekend’s scheduled top-flight rugby and football fixtures in France going ahead.
Toulon, who entertained Stade Francais more than 24 hours after the ban was implemented, went so far as to issue a statement saying the game was not affected by the ban as the open-air Stade Mayol was not a ‘confined area’.
Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu later confirmed Ligue 1 and Top 14 matches were ‘not subject to any particular restrictions’, but added: “This will be studied on a case-by-case basis before each match [in conjunction] with [regional] prefects.”
She also said Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League last-16 second-leg match, at home to Borussia Dortmund, would go ahead as planned on March 11, even if it has to be held behind closed doors.
As they have shown in seeking government guidance ahead of the postponement of Italy’s games against Ireland and England, the Six Nations is content to let governments take the lead on such public health decisions.
But, as tournament officials postponed England’s trip to Rome after the Italian Prime Minister ordered all sports fixtures to be played behind closed doors until April 3, it is safe to assume that any similar French decision in the days ahead would also lead to the game being called off.
If French authorities raise the public health alert level, as is expected in the next few days, it could then implement stricter controls on daily life, in line with plans laid out during the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.
As well as restrictions on large-scale events, such as next weekend’s international at Stade de France, some public transport services could also be suspended.
Meanwhile Gregor Townsend has patched up his relationship with Finn Russell and now the Scotland coach hopes the stay-away stand-off’s tactical insight will help fill in the blanks as he prepares to shoot down France’s Grand Slam hopes.
A peace of sorts has broken out after the disciplinary row which threatened Russell’s international future. While he will miss the remainder of the Six Nations campaign, the Racing 92 ace has offered up some nuggets of information on the players he plays with and against in the Top 14.
And Townsend admits they will be crucial as he and his coaching staff look to upset Les Bleus’ bid for the clean sweep.
“We don’t know the French as well as the other teams, we don’t play them on a regular basis in the PRO14.
“Conversations with players who are playing in France, people who have worked under Fabien Galthie in the past, and also having a former French international (Pieter de Villiers) on our coaching staff has certainly helped.