Irish rugby chiefs ‘will comply with whatever directive is issued’ on Italy game

The head of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has said it will comply with “whatever directive” is issued by the Government on whether to cancel next week’s Ireland vs Italy Six Nations rugby match.

Government health officials have advised to cancel the game due to the risk posed by coronavirus.

Ahead of a meeting with Irish health minister Simon Harris, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said: “It would be somewhat unfair to be asking the IRFU to make decisions like this.

“I think ultimately we will comply with whatever directive we will be given.”

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Asked if he was unhappy that the IRFU had learned of the recommendation to postpone the match through the media, Mr Browne said: “I don’t have anything to comment on that at the moment, but at this stage we are going in to talk to the minister and we are happy to do that.”

Ireland’s chief medical officer said on Wednesday that the decision to call for the cancellation of the match in Dublin was “not made lightly”.

Tony Holohan said it was “the only responsible decision that could have been made”.

On Tuesday the Department of Health’s National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the match scheduled for March 7 should be postponed.

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Dr Holohan said mass gatherings of people create a particular risk from coronavirus.

Speaking in a media briefing at the Department of Health, he added: “The risk assessment in relation to the specific mass gathering of the rugby match, we made a clear recommendation in relation to that, and that’s been a matter of public discussion and we will be meeting the IRFU later.

“We also set up a process whereby criteria can be both developed and applied to help in the management of decisions around other mass gatherings that might arise over the coming weeks and months.

“What was of concern to us was the nature of the mass gathering, a large group of people coming together from an affected area where we don’t believe we fully understand the community transmission pattern in that area.

“We think there may be many more cases there that have yet to be identified. We don’t think any other responsible decision could have been made.”

Tony Holohan during a press conference on Ireland’s preparedness for Covid-19
Tony Holohan during a press conference on Ireland’s preparedness for Covid-19 (Brian Lawless/PA)

If the match is cancelled it could cost millions of euro.

Asked who will pick up the bill, Dr Holohan said: “We are having an engagement with the IRFU after this conference and I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of that discussion.

“We’ve also made some important changes to the way in which, in particular, people who have had testing, that they would no longer be required to stay in the hospital environment pending the outcome of that testing.

“That would be an important way of helping to reduce some of the pressure in holding those patients in a hospital environment pending the outcome of that test.”

Transport Minister Shane Ross said that while he could not stop rugby fans travelling from Italy to Ireland, he did not want to encourage mass gatherings.

“You certainly don’t want to encourage them to gather in a big arena,” he told RTE.

“But you can’t stop them coming – that would be absolutely wrong.

“We are keeping the border open, we are not going that far. But we are certainly not going to encourage measures which are going to heighten the risk.”

In 2001, a number of Six Nations games were postponed due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

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