England’s final Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Rome on March 14 has been postponed due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
Tournament organisers faced the option of playing the game behind closed doors at the Stadio Olimpico or delaying it until later in the year and have chosen the latter option.
The accompanying Italy v England fixtures for the women and Under-20s have also been called off.
The decision comes after an Italian government decree issued on Wednesday night said Serie A matches would not be open to the public until April 3 in an attempt to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Italy is the European country most affected by the coronavirus with in excess of 3,000 people infected – a number that includes over 100 deaths. Eleven towns in northern Italy are in lockdown.
“Six Nations notes the decree issued by the Italian Government on March 4th with respect to all upcoming sporting events in that country,” a statement read.
“The decision has now been taken to postpone the three matches between Italy and England (men’s, women’s, and U20) set to take place over the weekend of March 13/14/15, with the intention to reschedule them at later dates.
“Based on the information that’s currently available, all other Six Nations matches are set to go ahead as scheduled.”
Shaping the decision is the Italian Rugby Federation’s desire to retain the revenue generated by a lucrative home clash with Eddie Jones’ title hopefuls.
By staging the game behind closed doors, the cash-strapped union would have missed out on gate receipts for a 73,000 sell-out.
It is the second game of the 2020 Six Nations to be postponed after Ireland’s clash with Italy in Dublin on Saturday was also called off on public health grounds.
Six Nations chiefs now face the challenge of finding a date to re-stage England’s visit to Rome knowing there is not much room in the calendar to accommodate the match.
The postponements mean it could be some time before a winner of the 2020 Six Nations is established, while the 20,000 Red Rose fans expected to travel to the Italian capital have seen their plans thrown into disarray.
England face Wales at Twickenham on Saturday needing victory to keep them in title contention.
England’s players will return to their clubs on Sunday.
Sale face Harlequins in the final of the Premiership Rugby Cup – a development competition – on March 15 but with no other matches scheduled most of Jones’ squad will have the weekend off.
Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney said: “We understand the decision to postpone all three England matches against Italy taken in the interests of overall public health.
“We know this will be disappointing for all the fans who were set to travel next weekend.
“We are committed to the successful delivery of three matches against Wales this weekend at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham Stoop and Kingsholm.
“Discussions with Six Nations are ongoing and we will update you with more information when we can.”