Ireland’s international rugby season looks set to resume following World Rugby’s decision to recommend a revised 2020 Test calendar for this autumn.
Both the men’s and women’s Six Nations championships were cut short as the Covid-19 pandemic forced rugby to shut down across the world in March with Ireland unable to play their home fixtures against Italy nor travel to France for the final round of matches.
Yet they look to be back on the agenda after the World Rugby Executive Committee on Wednesday recommended a revised temporary 2020 international calendar “with the express objective of optimising recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels”.
That will be a relief to the governing body in Ireland, the IRFU, whose chief executive Philip Browne forecast a loss of between €15m and €20m if the end of the 2020 Six Nations and the autumn international window was lost.
The temporary international calendar recommended by World Rugby on Wednesday makes room for both the completion of the former and provision for the latter, running between October 24 and December 5, with a possible Northern Hemisphere tournament involving the Six Nations and potentially Japan, USA, or Georgia. The next hurdle to clear will be the IRFU’s ability to stage its home Test matches with spectators as Browne also forecast a potential loss of €10m-15m if Ireland games were played behind closed doors.
“In the north, this window will accommodate the postponed men's and women's Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on 7 November, and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from 14 November through to 5 December.”
The proposal will require the temporary change of World Rugby’s Regulation 9 regarding the release of players by clubs for international duty and will be put before a virtual meeting of the World Rugby Council on July 30.
“Subject to approval, the full schedule of matches will be announced by the respective union and international competition owners in due course. The current Regulation 9 windows will return to normal after 13 December,” the World Rugby statement said.
There could be disappointment for Munster supporters hoping to see their new South African stars Damian de Allende and RG Snyman in early Champions Cup pool action, as World Rugby also revealed its plans for a six-week Rugby Championship 2020 to run between November 7 and December 12.
The final round of the Championship, featuring South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina, would cut across the first round of 2020-21 European games, scheduled for December 11-13. That could also affect Ulster’s Springbok back-row Marcell Coetzee.
“With Covid-19 restrictions continuing to impact international travel and borders across southern hemisphere unions, on an exceptional basis The Rugby Championship 2020 will be hosted in full in a single country over a reduced six-week period between 7 November and 12 December. Special measures will be implemented to deal with any government-required quarantine period prior to the start of the competition.
“The rescheduling of the domestic, European, and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September.”
World Rugby said the temporary windows had been determined following “extensive and productive consultation” between the world governing body, international competitions, national unions, their professional club competitions, and global players representative association, International Rugby Players.
It added: “All parties remain committed to continued dialogue regarding long-term men’s and women’s calendar reform that harmonises the international and club environments for the betterment of all.”
How the 2020 Irish rugby calendar is shaping up
22: Guinness PRO14 2019-20 Round 14: Leinster v Munster, Aviva Stadium 19:35 (Eir Sport)
23: Guinness PRO14 Round 14: Connacht v Ulster, Aviva Stadium 16:30 (TG4)
29: Guinness PRO14 2019-20 Round 15: Ulster v Leinster, Aviva Stadium 19:35 (Eir Sport)
30: Guinness PRO14 Round 15: Munster v Connacht, Aviva Stadium 15:00 (Eir Sport)
4/5/6: Guinness PRO14 semi-finals
12: Guinness PRO14 Final
19: Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final: Leinster v Saracens, Aviva Stadium 15.00 (BT Sport)
20: Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final: Toulouse v Ulster, Le Stadium, 12.30 (Irish time) (BT Sport/Channel 4/Virgin Media)
25/26/27: Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals
25: Energia AIL Men’s Community Series begins through to December
3: Guinness PRO14 2020-21 Round 1
16/17/18: Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals (venues TBC)
24: International Test Window Opens/Six Nations 2020 Resumes: Ireland v Italy (TBC)
31: Six Nations 2020 Final Round: France v Ireland (TBC)
7: Rugby Championship 2020 Begins December 12, Northern Hemisphere Rest Weekend
14: Northern Hemisphere Tournament first round
21: Northern Hemisphere Tournament second round
28: Northern Hemisphere Tournament third round
5: Northern Hemisphere Tournament final round/Test Window Closes
12: Rugby Championship 2020 Final Round
11/12/13: Heineken Champions Cup 2020/21 Pool Stage Round 1
9: Energia All-Ireland League 2020-21 shortened season begins