Coronavirus: World Rugby puts All Blacks, Black Ferns Sevens title challenge on hold

World Rugby has postponed its remaining world sevens series tournaments before the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Particularly hard-hit by the latest news are the All Blacks and Black Ferns Sevens, leading both the men's and women's standings. 

In the latest development, the men's tournament in London and the women's tournament in Langford, Canada, originally scheduled for May, have provisionally been set for September, along with the mixed Paris tournament. 

The Singapore and Hong Kong events, which were originally scheduled to be played in April, were recently postponed due to health concerns relating to the coronavirus outbreak and rescheduled to October.

After the first six tournaments of the season, the New Zealand men lead South Africa by 11 points in the standings, while the Kiwi women hold a 16-point advantage over Australia after five stages. 

The All Blacks are chasing their first title since the 2013-14 season, while the women are attempting to defend theirs. 

The Olympic Games Repechage qualification tournament scheduled for June is also under review and World Rugby continues to be in close consultation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding the implications for the qualification process in the event that the repechage is unable to be hosted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We stand in solidarity with the global rugby family and people around the world at this exceptional and difficult time, and I will ensure we continue to do everything in our power to protect the wellbeing of the global rugby family and the wider public," said World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont. 

"Taking the appropriate measures that mitigate the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus in line with government and public health agency responses and advice is paramount. 

"We are in close dialogue with the IOC relating to the conclusion of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games rugby sevens qualification, specifically options to replace the final Repechage tournament, should that be required. 

The Black Ferns are the defending women's Sevens champions.
The Black Ferns are the defending women's Sevens champions. Photo credit: World Rugby

"We have two women's and one men's teams left to qualify and are currently considering all options to ensure a fair and credible conclusion to the qualification process."

On top of the sevens postponement, some women's 2021 and men's 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifying events have also been postponed, while the World Rugby  U20 Championship has been cancelled. 

The U20 Championship was due to be held in northern Italy - where the COVID-19 outbreak is severe - in late June and July.

"This has underpinned our decision, taken in consultation with our unions, to suspend these World Rugby tournament activities with immediate effect, including the cancellation of the World Rugby U20 Championship following conversations with our friends at the Italian federation," Beaumont added. 

"Looking at a longer-term strategy, we are in continual dialogue with our unions, regions and the players' association relating to the wider global impact on rugby activities, including financial implications, driven by government and health authority measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.

"At this extraordinary time, we are united in our commitment to finding ways of ensuring that on-field activity can resume as soon as it is safe and possible to do so. 

"To that end, the World Rugby executive committee is driving the implementation of a detailed action plan that will guide us through this challenging period as a sport unified across the international and domestic environments."