Ireland’s Six Nations match against Italy next weekend has been called off due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak, throwing the championship into chaos with two rounds still remaining.

The fixture, which is due to take place on Saturday 7 March, has been postponed indefinitely, and with England due to travel to Rome to face Italy for their final fixture on 14 March, serious doubts have emerged over the conclusion of this year’s tournament due to the lack of alternative dates and uncertain future surrounding the deadly outbreak.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne issued a statement on Wednesday that said: “I just wanted to stress at the very outset that we made it clear to the minister and his advisors that we’re fully supportive of whatever steps they feel are necessary to safeguard public health in light of the coronavirus and this was not about the decisions that they feel need to be taken in relation to protecting public health. We’re fully supportive of that.

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“We had a very positive meeting with Mr Harris and his advisors where we requested an instruction as to the staging of the Ireland vs Italy international matches over the weekend 6-8 March. At the meeting we were informed that the national public health emergency team have determined that the series of matches should not proceed in the interests of public health.

“The IRFU is perfectly happy to comply with this instruction. We will immediately begin to work with our Six Nations partners to look at the possibility of rescheduling those three matches. I will hope to have an update on that in the coming days.”

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