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Munster in line to be big losers as shape of rugby's return becomes clearer

Ruaidhri O'Connor


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Munster head coach Johann van Graan could be without two his of his signings for a key part of the season. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan could be without two his of his signings for a key part of the season. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Munster head coach Johann van Graan could be without two his of his signings for a key part of the season. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Slowly, but surely the dates are being inked into the diary as rugby's resumption takes shape.

At this stage, we know who will play when for the end of the 2019/20 domestic season, while the start dates for next season's tournaments and the international windows have been confirmed.

Yesterday, Guinness PRO14 put some meat on the bone by confirming the schedule for the two remaining rounds that will see Leinster and Munster kick off Ireland's resumption at the Aviva Stadium on August 22.

Later, World Rugby confirmed they intend on scheduling a longer than usual autumn window in the northern hemisphere to allow the completion of the unfinished Six Nations, a rest weekend and an invitational tournament that would replace the traditional November Internationals.

Meanwhile, the southern hemisphere giants will gather in New Zealand to play the Rugby Championship.

EPCR has already confirmed their schedule for this season's Champions Cup knock-outs and next season's start date; so how is it all shaping up.

Can I go to the Interpros?

Irish rugby's return on the weekend of August 22/23 is likely to be behind closed doors or in front of a very limited crowd.

Currently, the Covid-19 restrictions only allow for 200 people to attend outdoor gatherings and that includes the players and officials involved in staging the match.

Aviva Stadium director Martin Murphy insists around 160 people are needed to stage a game.

The 200 figure could rise in the next month, but we seem a long way away from full houses. The capacity of the Aviva with two-metre social distancing is 8,400 and that rises to 18,200 with a 1m rule was in place.

When will the Six Nations finish?

If World Rugby's plan gets across the line at their Council meeting next week, Ireland will play Italy on October 24 and France as part of Super Saturday on October 31.

French supremo and World Rugby vice chair Bernard Laporte confirmed that game earlier this week, but the Six Nations have not rubber-stamped the dates.

The process of refunding tickets for those games has begun, so again they are likely to take place with limited attendance at best.

And what about November?

Ireland will not play South Africa, Australia and Japan in Dublin this autumn, instead they will be part of an eight-team invitational tournament if World Rugby's plans are voted through on July 30.

That would see the Six Nations joined by two other countries, most likely Georgia and Fiji, with a final weekend on December 5.

The southern hemisphere giants won't be coming north because the Rugby Championship will take place over six weeks in one location - probably New Zealand - between November 7 and December 12.

Isn't it all a bit crowded?

French clubs are already threatening legal action if this schedule is adopted, but the majority of unions need the cash from internationals and are likely to vote the schedule through.

It means a long stretch of the club season will take place without internationals, while the Rugby Championship timing clashes with at least one round of the Heineken Champions Cup.

That will be a big blow to Munster, who can expect to be without Springbok new signings Damian De Allende and RG Snyman when they kick off their European campaign on December 12. Ulster's Marcell Coetzee could also be affected if selected.

If they play in New Zealand that weekend, then they could miss the round two game if it takes place a week later.

Leagues will object, but Test matches bring in the revenue and something was always going to have to give. The clubs won't be happy and players may suffer, but the financial requirements mean the show must go on.

GUINNESS PRO14 fixtures:

Friday, Aug 21: Bennetton v Zebre, 7.0

Saturday, Aug 22: Scarlets v Cardiff Blues, 3.0; Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors, 5.15; Leinster v Munster, 7.35

Sunday, Aug 23: Ospreys v Dragons, 2.15; Connacht v Ulster, 4.30;

Friday, Aug 28: Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh, 7.35;

Saturday, Aug 29: Dragons v Scarlets, 5.15; Leinster v Ulster, 7.35;

Sunday, Aug 30: Munster v Connacht, 3.0; Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, 5.0; Zebre v Bennetton, 7.0

Final Series

Semi-Finals: To be played on the weekend of September 4/5/6

Finals: To be played on Saturday, September 12

Irish Independent