World Rugby terminates Sevens Series early as talks continue on 15s calendar
World Rugby has delayed a vote on a new schedule for international 15-a-side matches in the second half of 2020 as unions continue negotiations with clubs but has today cancelled the remaining events in the 2020 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series because of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
With the health situation improving in many of the major rugby markets, and domestic competitions back under way in some countries, notably New Zealand and Australia, World Rugby has been working with national bodies to devise an international calendar for the rest of 2020 taking in postponed matches and the scheduled autumn series in the northern hemisphere.
However, efforts to reach agreement have been complicated by ongoing talks between rugby unions and top clubs, notably in England and France, over fixture clashes and player release as the sport resumes.
The World Rugby council was due to vote today on a revised schedule including the four leftover matches from Europe’s Six Nations originally scheduled for the first half of March, and games between northern and southern hemisphere teams.
However, this has been put back to mid-July to enable negotiations between unions and clubs to be satisfactorily concluded.
With the 2020 Six Nations still to be completed and summer tours to the southern hemisphere having been called off, World Rugby is eager for international matches to be played across the northern hemisphere autumn but faces resistance from domestic leagues, which are reluctant to release players for the whole of that period.
With ongoing doubts over games involving the likes of New Zealand and Australia, it is reported that one plan calls for the scheduled autumn tours to the northern hemisphere to be replaced by a one-off eight-team tournament that would involve the Six Nations teams (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy and France) and guests Japan and Fiji.
The proposals on the table envisage a test match window running from 24 October to 5 December, including a mandatory rest week.
It is understood that negotiations are progressing between the FFR, the French rugby federation, and the LNR, which oversees the country's Top 14, and between England’s Rugby Football Union and the domestic Premiership Rugby, on a revised fixture schedule for 2020.
More problematic are the talks over a remodelled global calendar for the future under which national team matches currently played in July would be permanently moved to October, impacting on domestic league seasons.
This forms part of plans that include aligning the northern and southern hemisphere seasons, with the Six Nations moving from its established timeslot of late-January, February and March to March and April, and closer to the dates of The Rugby Championship involving South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.
The RFU told the UK’s Guardian newspaper: “The RFU and PRL are continuing to collaborate on the autumn calendar and the wider global season. We are hopeful for a positive outcome for all parties.”
In addition to fulfilling their remaining Six Nations game in Italy, England are due to host tests against New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia this autumn.
Although it is hopeful that as many possible international 15s matches can be held in 2020, World Rugby has concluded that the various global sevens series cannot be resumed.
As a result, remaining rounds of the men’s and women’s World Rugby Sevens Series in Langford in Canada, London, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong have been cancelled.
New Zealand have been crowned champions of both series as they were top of the standings when the pandemic forced a suspension.
The final events of the new lower-tier World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series have also been cancelled because of the international health situation.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said on Tuesday: “While it is very disappointing for players, fans, organisers and everyone involved to have to cancel these events due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and wider society remains the number one priority.
“These difficult decisions have been taken following detailed consultation with our union partners and in line with advice from the various government and public health agencies around the world, given the global nature of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.”
He added: “We thank our union, commercial and broadcast partners for their continued support and solidarity during this difficult time. We are united in our commitment and will continue to work hard in a spirit of collaboration as we plan for a return to international rugby sevens as soon as safely possible.”
Sevens is set to make its second appearance at an Olympics at the delayed Tokyo 2020 games next year.