English rugby suspended in response to coronavirus

English Premiership Rugby ball (Getty Images)
English Premiership Rugby ball (Getty Images)

Rugby Union in England has been suspended at all levels until 14 April in response to the coronavirus, the national governing Rugby Football Union announced Monday.

"The Rugby Football Union will suspend all rugby activity in England, at both professional and community level, including club training, league and cup matches plus rugby education courses from 17 March until 14 April subject to continued review," said an RFU statement.

"The decision has been taken following (British)government advice in the interests of players, coaches, referees, volunteers, supporters and the wider rugby union community."

Meanwhile the top-tier English Premiership rugby union season is to be postponed for five weeks.

The suspension covers four scheduled rounds of matches, with the weekend of 24-26 April, a possible date for the resumption.

The quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, scheduled for 3, 4 and 5 April, have also been postponed.

The Pro14 and France's Top 14 leagues were suspended indefinitely last week, with four international matches in the 2020 Six Nations Championship postponed because of the spread of COVID-19.

There are nine rounds of Premiership matches remaining before the scheduled semi-finals and final in June.

Exeter lead the table by five points after 13 rounds of fixtures.

"We are sorry to tell our fans that we will be postponing our season for five weeks, in line with today's (Monday's) advice of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which confirmed that the (British) Government would no longer support mass gatherings," said a Premiership Rugby statement.

"The safety of our fans and staff is our first priority, and we would like to wish all of those who are affected our heartfelt best wishes and a very speedy recovery.

"We'll continue to work closely with DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) and Public Health England, and to follow the advice of medical experts, and work with our clubs to help them to support their own wider communities at this time."

England's Rugby Players' Association (RPA) backed the Premiership shutdown.

"The RPA fully supports PRL's (Premiership Rugby Limited's) decision to postpone Gallagher Premiership fixtures, to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all our members, club employees and rugby fans across the country," said a statement.

"The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 presents extraordinary challenges and risks, so it is therefore vital that we follow the Government protocols at this time to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in the game."

While the destiny of the title remains uncertain, disgraced reigning Premiership and European champions Saracens are already assured of relegation from England's top flight for violations of the salary cap.

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