BAGSHOT, England: England's final Six Nations encounter against Italy in Rome next week has been postponed amid fears over the coronavirus outbreak, tournament organisers said on Thursday.
The game had been due to be played without fans present after an Italian government ruling this week on all sports events but organisers decided to postpone the match. Italy's game in Ireland this Saturday had already been postponed.
"Six Nations notes the decree issued by the Italian Government with respect to all upcoming sporting events in that country," Six Nations organisers said in a statement. "The decision has now been taken to postpone the three matches between Italy and England (Men’s, Women’s and U20) set to take place over the weekend of 13/14/15th March, with the intention to reschedule them at later dates.
"Based on the information that is currently available, all other Six Nations matches are set to go ahead as scheduled. As previously stated, Six Nations fully intends to complete all 15 games across all three championships when time allows."
About 20,000 England fans had been expected to make the trip to Rome.
There is no obvious date when the fixtures could be played, with a crowded club and international calendar rolling from the domestic season straight into southern hemisphere tours.
The last time the competition was similarly affected was in 2001, when three games were played in September and October because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease earlier in the year.
England's Australian coach Eddie Jones held a news conference at the team's training base on Thursday to announce his team for Saturday's game against Wales but declined to say much about the postponement.
"The only thing we've got to worry about is playing Wales on Saturday, we don't think any other way," Jones told reporters.
"There are more appropriate people than me to speak about that topic. I don't have the knowledge to speak about it. I'm sure that everyone who is involved is making the right decisions."
The schedules of several international sporting events have been affected by the flu-like virus that has killed more than 3,200 people around the world and infected more than 94,000 after it originated in China late last year.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Goodman)