Two more Six Nations matches postponed
March 7, 2001

England's Six Nations Championship clash against Ireland in Dublin on March 24 has been postponed because of the foot and mouth crisis.

The Irish Rugby Football Union also announced tonight in an expected development that Ireland's match against Scotland in Edinburgh on April 7 is postponed too.

Irish rugby chiefs called off the matches following discussions earlier this week with agriculture officials.

The Department of Agriculture recommended to Irish rugby bosses that both matches should be called off as a precaution against possible foot and mouth entry into Ireland.

The IRFU said tonight that it is ``in the national interest'' to accept the recommendation and has informed the Six Nations Committee, Scottish Rugby Union and Rugby Football Union.

The IRFU has also been advised that 30 days should elapse from the date of the last confirmed case of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom before it is safe to resume international fixtures with UK-based teams without risk of introducing the virus into Ireland.

The union added that it ``greatly regrets'' taking these measures and ``the inconvenience and disruption'' that will be caused to Irish rugby fans.

Ireland could now end up playing three Six Nations matches in a fortnight with their trip to Scotland possibly to be staged on May 12/13, preceded by games against Wales and England.

Tournament bosses have provisionally arranged the delayed Wales versus Ireland Test for Sunday April 29 in Cardiff.

England's trip to Lansdowne Road could now take place a week later on May 5 or 6.

Today's developments throw major doubt on whether the tournament can be completed this season, raising the prospect of delayed matches possibly being
held over until next September.

The Six Nations Committee set aside May 5/6 and May 12/13 as alternative dates if any further matches were called off.

Both those weekends clash with the Premiership play-off semi-finals and final in England.

That could mean top English clubs refusing to release players. That will clearly be most contentious in the event of England having unfinished Six Nations business.

But talks have already started between the Rugby Football Union and English First Division Rugby about contingency plans.

One possible alternative might be to bring forward the Premiership's final round of fixtures over Easter (April 14, 15 and 16) by three weeks.

Clubs could now play league games on March 24, freeing up May 5/6 provided play-off quarter-finals and semi-finals also take place earlier than currently planned.

England's next scheduled Test is an April 7 Twickenham appointment with France.

The tournament leaders and title favourites have already destroyed Wales, Italy and Scotland setting themselves up for a possible first Grand Slam since 1995.

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