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Ireland's Australia tour in October and Six Nations ties either side of Christmas among ideas to solve scheduling crisis

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Ireland's tour to Australia has been postponed

Ireland's tour to Australia has been postponed

SPORTSFILE

Ireland's tour to Australia has been postponed

Ireland's summer tour of Australia could be rescheduled for October as World Rugby, clubs, tournament organisers and unions work together to devise a solution to their fixtures crisis.

And a home and away Six Nations is another option being pondered by the sport's power-brokers as they look to find a way of generating revenue once rugby resumes after the covid-19 shutdown.

The bodies held a conference call earlier this week to find a way to play postponed games once the restrictions on travel and public gatherings have eased.

An announcement on the July tests is due later this month and, rather than cancel them, unions hope to find a way to play the games later in the year in order to save the match-related income.

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Rugby Australia are embroiled in a financial crisis with chief executive Raelene Castle under pressure for her job. Playing Ireland in Brisbane and Sydney would greatly ease their woes, after the three-Test series in 2018 proved hugely successful.

Currently, only Australian citizens, residents and their immediate family members are allowed entry to Australia and the matches are scheduled to be played in 12 and 13 weeks time. With Irish players currently housebound, it is impossible to see them being ready to play.

According to RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, England could be off to Japan in October rather than July and that would appear to set up the prospect of an elongated international window running across the autumn.

"The assumption is that the (November) games will go ahead. We’re in regular contact with (the Southern Hemisphere unions) – talking two or three times a week," Sweeney told the BBC.

"What's under threat would be the July tours, because they're sooner, so we're looking at various different ways that we could combine those in some shape or form.

"We might go there in October, possibly. That's one option.

"Nothing's confirmed yet, as you can realise with everything we're dealing with at the moment it’s all discussion – nothing is fully nailed down but one option is we could go down there. They’d rather host, they make more money when they host, then we’d come back up and play our autumn series."

Sweeney stressed that the Southern Hemisphere countries are keen to travel north in November as it stands, but said if that changes an expanded Six Nations could be on the cards.

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RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney (Steven Paston/PA)

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney (Steven Paston/PA)

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney (Steven Paston/PA)

"The south are having the same discussions, if they weren't able to come north and we weren't able to go south they'd want to do something to fill their gap and we'd want to do that too," he said.

"We're looking at various contingencies, but the obvious one is staging a Six Nations in the autumn – link it into a home and away series.

"Nothing's every easy, these are exceptional circumstances. From a geographical point of view, the travel is not so bad. We’re used to playing each other, we know how the logistics work and we could probably put that together relatively easy.

"It's one of many potential fall-backs."

The RFU chief was not asked about and did not mention the four outstanding games from the 2020 Six Nations, with Ireland’s games against Italy and France still to be played as well as Italy v England and Wales v Scotland.

In November, South Africa, Japan and the Wallabies are due in Dublin so Andy Farrell’s men could face an unprecedented seven Test matches in succession.

Everything, it appears, is on the table.

The coronavirus stoppage has plunged the game into a cash crisis and clubs are desperate to play again once it is safe so they can start generating income.

In Ireland, all staff have taken a temporary pay-cut of between 10 and 50pc, while in England a number of clubs have implemented pay cuts and placed players on furlough.

No one knows when the game will be played again, it is still hoped that some of the season can be salvaged during the summer.

Clubs still hope to complete the Premiership by kicking off again in July, with the Heineken Champions Cup potentially coming up in August.

The Irish picture is muddied by the fact that all of the provincial competitions involve an element of international travel and restarting the Guinness PRO14 requires government permission in six jurisdictions across two continents.

A one-off final between current conference leaders Leinster and Edinburgh has been floated as a way of bringing some closure to the season, but in the absence of the remaining rounds the IRFU could look to put together a one-off interpro competition if the public health crisis has eased in this country, but restrictions have been eased elsewhere.

If the club seasons runs deep into the summer and potentially early autumn, it would have a knock-on effect to the start of next season and that could afford the space for a long international window.

With clubs and unions struggling, there is a sense that World Rugby have an opportunity get buy-in across the game for a season restructure.

"The global calendar, the opportunity to align a global and domestic calendar that works in the best interest of the game is a huge opportunity," Sweeney said.

"From an England perspective, it can’t be right to have overlap of club and country. It creates friction for the fans, not good for players.

"Also, prevailing business models around the game at the moment are not functioning very well. They rely heavily on wealthy benefactors who are passionate about the game and when something like this comes along it exposes the fragility of that.

"It also gives us an opportunity to assess the costs within the game, taking costs out of the game will be a key priority for us.”

The latter point has been echoed by club owners across the English game, with London Irish benefactor Mick Crossan saying the current model is unsustainable.

"Last season cost me £4million and I can’t afford that,” he told the Mirror.

"Club rugby has to change. We can’t keep relying on rich benefactors. It’s definitely not a sustainable business. Everyone's suffering.

"This crisis may actually be a saving grace for club rugby, in the respect that everyone will hopefully now cut their cloth to suit their pockets.

"I honestly think it will do club rugby good by bringing common sense back to the clubs and the finances of what players are being offered. Hopefully it will give a kick in the arse to some of the agents as well."

Online Editors