Six Nations has confirmed the tournament will be completed in October and guidance on potential spectator attendance will follow "in due course".

The World Rugby Council last week approved for Ireland to face Italy on October 24, with the final round of matches taking place a week later.

Ireland will stage bottom side Italy at the Aviva Stadium in a showdown that should have taken place on March 7, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wales will take on Scotland on October 31 at a venue that has not yet been confirmed, with England travelling to face Italy at Stadio Olimpico and France doing battle with Ireland at Stade de France on the same day. 

England were above France on points difference when the vast majority of sport worldwide was halted in March and it remains to be seen whether fans will be allowed in to see the conclusion of the competition.

A Six Nations statement released on Wednesday said: "In rescheduling these matches, the health and safety of players, associated staff and supporters has been at the forefront of our thinking.

"We remain in close contact with all relevant authorities across the respective jurisdictions to ensure these matches take place in a safe environment and we will announce further details of health and safety protocols and guidance on spectator attendance in due course."

Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said: "Public health remains the number one priority and while we must continue to be vigilant and cognisant of the dynamic and fast changing external environment, we are nonetheless extremely pleased to be moving in the right direction."

Eddie Jones has expressed delight at Manu Tuilagi's decision to stay in England and is not concerned that Owen Farrell will be playing in the Championship next season.

Tuilagi this week joined Sale Sharks on a deal until the end of next season after failing to agree terms to remain with Leicester Tigers.

The British and Irish Lion was linked with a move to France or a code swap, options which would have ended his England career.

Jones says the 29-year-old's switch to Sale is great news for the Rugby World Cup runners-up.

The England head coach said: "Manu made up his mind what he was going to do. We had a couple of phone calls, we kept in contact the whole time.

"I gave him a small piece of advice, but he knew what he wanted to do. He's a valuable Test player, his performance in the World Cup and Six Nations indicated there is still more in him and I'm delighted by his decision.

"It's obviously a difficult time for everyone at the moment and we are glad he's made that decision."

Farrell will not be on the move after committing his long-term future to Saracens, who are heading for the second tier due to persistent salary-cap breaches.

It was also revealed that Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Jamie George will stay with Sarries this week and Jones says the European champions’ England contingent will be picked if they are performing well enough.

He said: "I'll be comfortable [picking Saracens players] if they're in good form. Players who have a track record of Test match success, I'll have a pretty good idea of where they are and where they need to be.

"My understanding is most of the younger guys at Saracens are moving to other clubs so they will not have the same issues that the older players have. 

"Without sounding too grandiose, if I look at Owen Farrell it doesn't matter what game he plays I've got a pretty good understanding of where he needs to be."

The British and Irish Lions' tour to South Africa will go ahead as scheduled in 2021. 

There were concerns the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could cause a postponement to the trip, but the original dates for all eight fixtures have now been confirmed. 

The Lions will take on the reigning world champions in a three-Test series, with those games against the Springboks taking place in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gauteng.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the sporting calendar, but after extensive discussions we are now able to confirm that the Tour dates are as previously announced," said Ben Calveley, managing director of the Lions. 

"An enormous amount of planning, especially from a logistical perspective, goes into putting on a Lions series, so it was crucial that a decision was agreed upon in good time."

Steve Hansen says New Zealand Rugby owes Australian counterparts nothing and urged officials to be strong in talks over the future of Super Rugby.

NZ Rugby commissioned the Aratipu review to look into the Super Rugby model and put plans in place to rebuild finances after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been talk of reducing the number of Australian teams in a new-look trans-Tasman competition.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan this week compared the relationship between his governing body and NZ Rugby to a "master-servant" dynamic.

Former All Blacks head coach Hansen has urged NZ Rugby to stand firm when negotiations take place.

"Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years," Hansen told Stuff Media.

"And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.

"Do we owe them something? No. But because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit.’"

He added: "I think NZ Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions … because they only get one shot at it."

Hansen does not believe it would be a wise move to have more New Zealand teams in a Super Rugby competition and feels less travel can be a benefit for players.

"You don't want to be diluting the talent pool. And then you have to ask, 'Do we want our athletes travelling all around the world as much as they have been?'.

"If the answer is 'no', you look internally into New Zealand or maybe Australia [for a structure of the tournament) because it's not far away."

Former South Africa hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle has been given an eight-year ban after testing positive for a banned substance. 

The 33-year-old tested positive for the anabolic agent Zeranol in an out-of-competition sample taken in January 2019. 

Ralepelle, who also failed tests in 2010 and 2014 - the first was ruled a 'no-fault' case and he received a reprimand, challenged the latest charge, but the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) has banned the player until 2027. 

The ex-Sharks, Bulls and Toulouse forward, who won 25 caps for the Springboks, has three weeks to lodge an appeal.  

A statement from SAIDS sent to Stats Perform News read: "The Independent Doping Tribunal Panel handed down its decision in two parts this week on the doping charge against former Springbok and Sharks rugby player, Mahlatse 'Chiliboy' Ralepelle.  

"The player tested positive for the banned anabolic agent Zeranol during an out-of-competition test on January 17, 2019. 

"The athlete challenged the doping charge and was afforded the opportunity to seek legal counsel to present his case and version of events to the tribunal panel. The hearings were adjourned multiple times and were held over a period of six months. The panel reached a decision first on the merits of the case where they found the player guilty of a doping offence. 

"Ralepelle had previously tested positive on two separate occasions while playing overseas. The Zeranol positive case was his third positive dope test during his playing career within a 10-year period, however the player's first positive case was ruled a 'No Fault' decision and he then received a reprimand. 

"The panel had to refer to sports jurisprudence to determine the appropriate sanction which they ruled to be the player's second doping offence. 

"The Independent Doping Tribunal Panel ruled that Mr Ralepelle must serve an eight-year ban for doping. The ban will expire on January 27, 2027. The player has 21 days within which to file an appeal against the sanction."

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett will miss the rest of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season as he requires surgery on a big toe injury.

The New Zealand lock was hurt playing in an internal game on June 13 and, following medical consultation, the decision was taken for Barrett to go under the knife.

Alex Ainley comes into the squad to cover for Barrett, while Codie Taylor takes over the armband.

A Crusaders statement read: "Crusaders Captain Scott Barrett sustained a significant injury to the structures supporting his big toe, while playing in the Crusaders internal game on Saturday 13 June.  

"After consultation with a foot specialist, it has been determined that Scott will miss the remainder of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to undergo surgery and allow sufficient time to recover. Exact return to play dates are uncertain at this stage. 

"Alex Ainley has joined the Crusaders squad as injury cover for the competition, and Codie Taylor will take over captaincy of the side for the remainder of the season."

Barrett signed a new deal to stay with New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders until 2023 last month.

Michael Hooper is not guaranteed to keep the captain's armband under new Australia coach Dave Rennie.

Rennie will formally assume the role next month and he revealed the team will be selected before a skipper is chosen.

The incoming Wallabies boss also expressed disappointment that Izack Rodda and Harry Hockings will not be at his disposal after refusing to accept pay cuts that were signed off by the Rugby Union Players Association and Rugby Australia.

After a tough spell under Michael Cheika, beaten 2019 Rugby World cup quarter-finalists Australia will hope for a brighter future under former Glasgow Warriors coach Rennie but he is not sure who will lead his team.

"We haven't spoken about captaincy at all, and I've spoken with Hoops a lot on various things," Rennie said when asked on a Zoom call if Hooper would stay on as captain.

"All we've talked about at the moment is earning the right to play, so it's about playing well enough to win the jersey and then we'll sort out who the captain will be."

Hooper recently stepped down from the captaincy role with the Waratahs and Rennie believes the flanker's performances have improved as a result.

"Clearly, he's not doing it at the Waratahs, and that's been good for his game to be honest, I think he's played really well. He's still leading, no doubt, he just hasn't got the 'C' next to his name," Rennie said.

"So, he's a strong contender for captain but we haven't firmed up any decisions around that; we'll just work out what the team is and then we'll select the captain. But there [are] lots of good leaders in amongst that group."

On the issue of Rodda and Hockings, both of whom have come in for heavy criticism, Rennie felt perhaps the full story had not come to light.

"I've spoken a lot to Izack, I don't know what's been reported, I don't tend to read a lot of papers, but the full picture probably hasn't been painted," he said.

"I had a good chat to him last week, but he's gone and the whole situation is really messy and could have been handled a lot better. So that's disappointing.

"With young Harry Hockings gone, who I think could have been an outstanding international lock, and with Izack gone, and when you look at guys like Rory Arnold heading off last year, there's certainly an opportunity for some guys [locks] coming through. So not ideal but it is what it is, and we've got to get on with it."

Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu has signed a new deal with New Zealand Rugby until the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

It was announced on Monday that the New Zealand lock has agreed terms on the back of the Blues' 30-20 victory over the Hurricanes at a packed Eden Park on the opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The 27-year-old has won 30 caps for the All Blacks and played 74 times for Auckland franchise the Blues since making his debut in 2014.

"I am pleased to continue to play for New Zealand Rugby and the Blues until 2023 and I'm excited about the future," said Tuipulotu.

"During the [coronavirus] lockdown I realised more than ever how much I love this game and love playing for the Blues. We are beginning to develop into a really good side and it is an honour to lead them.

"I am still young and learning all the time, and I want to establish myself as an international player."

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said: "This is fantastic news for New Zealand Rugby and the Blues.

"Patrick has grown considerably over the last few years, both on the field as a player and off field with his captaincy and leadership.

"The fact that he has re-signed through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup is a sign of not only NZ Rugby's commitment to him, but also Patty's desire to achieve his own goals in New Zealand over the next few years.

"We congratulate him on making that commitment."

John Morris was "totally blind-sided" by reports that he is under pressure after Eddie Jones was linked with the Cronulla Sharks job.

Sharks coach Morris was stunned to hear that his position could be under threat following an NRL victory over North Queensland Cowboys last week.

It was then reported that England head coach Eddie Jones was being lined up for a sensational code switch to replace the 39-year-old Morris.

A 30-16 defeat to St George Illawarra Dragons on Sunday led to Morris being probed about talk of Jones taking his job, but he was defiant after the Sharks dropped to 14th in the ladder.

"I'm a young coach, that's for sure, but I think everyone across the game can appreciate the challenges I've had in the first 12 months," Morris said.

"We've had massive challenges around the club with the salary cap fine. We've had to let players go as a result of that.

"We played finals football last year in my first year as a rookie coach, so I don't want to sit here and feel sorry for myself or anything like that, but I think I've done a really good job so far and I've had a lot of injuries as well. 

"We still can't put our main side on the park at the moment. The Eddie Jones stuff obviously caught me by surprise and did a lot of people. I'm contracted until the end of 2021, so I can't read too much into that read.

"Speculation and rumour, I can't let that distract on me, I'm focused on this playing group and getting them going, we had a really good win up in North Queensland last week and we wanted to get better this week, but we obviously slipped up today."

Morris called for the club to back him after he was pressed further on his future in the post-match news conference.

He added: "You'd have to speak to the club, there has been no mention at all to me about my position, it came from left field after our win last week against the Cowboys.

"We were singing the team song in the sheds and it's reported that my job was under pressure, so that's totally blind-sided me. 

"But one thing is I've got a really good bond with the playing group and all of our staff and we're working real hard. We've got some unprecedented challenges around our club at the moment and we are all working as hard as we can to get through that.

"We had to release Matt Prior before the season even started due to the salary cap, we let Josh Morris go. We've had some challenges there and I think the more the club can support me in these challenging times, the better we'll be in the long run."

Australia is ready to ditch the cardboard cutouts and welcome back thousands of spectators to its major sporting events, prime minister Scott Morrison has declared.

From July, venues with up to 40,000 seats will be allowed to operate at a limit of 25 per cent capacity, providing events are ticketed and seated.

Morrison confirmed the same guidelines could also apply to larger venues but said local health authorities would need to assess coronavirus risk on a case-by-case basis.

The news could mean events such as the NRL and AFL welcome back supporters next month, and it boosts the prospect of cricket's ICC Twenty20 World Cup taking place with fans in October and November.

Announcing the reopening of stadiums to fans, albeit with social distancing measures in place, Morrison said he was "sure that will be very welcome".

Australia's biggest venues, such as the MCG, Docklands Stadium and Stadium Australia, may also soon be back open for business.

"For the larger ones I would venture that it would be the subject of a discrete approval for each venue, that would be worked up with the chief health officer in each state or territory," Morrison said.

"So, by the time you get into July there may be that type of opportunity for the rules that apply to those under 40,000 to just carry over to those above 40,000, but that is not a decision that has been taken yet.

"These will be practical, common-sense issues, they'll be worked through by the medical expert panel over the next few weeks and I think that will give it greater instruction.

"The purpose of me flagging this today is so sporting codes, venues, state and territory governments, can engage in that appropriate discussion, know broadly what the parameters are which the national cabinet has set, so it means that people will be able to watch the games, not as cardboard cutouts, but in person, should they be fortunate enough to get one of those seats."

Australia has had over 7,200 cases of COVID-19, with 102 deaths, and there are fewer than 500 current cases in the country, the government said.

Although insisting that he respected the decisions, legendary West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding believes the tour of England could be counted as a missed opportunity for the duo of Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer.

Hetmyer and Bravo joined bowler Keemo Paul in rejecting the offer to join a 25-member squad to tour England this month.  With the UK being one of the countries most badly ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, the trio insisted that they did not feel it was safe to take the risk associated with going on the tour, despite safety assurances given by the England Cricket Board (ECB).  The matches will take place in front of empty stadiums and players will be kept in an enclosed and heavily quarantined environment.

With both players, despite their prodigious talent, struggling for firm footing when it comes to the West Indies squad, Holding believes the match could have provided useful hitting time.

“I think it’s unfortunate as far as West Indies cricket is concerned.  I’m not going to tell anyone that they should be going to England, because the COVID-19 is around.  Someone may get sick or even worse,” Holding said on youtube podcast Mikey – No Holding back.

“But at the same time, I think it’s unfortunate for the West Indies team because these guys have quite a bit of talent and they’ll be missed," he added.

“I’m sorry that Bravo in particular isn’t going, because I think he needs to resuscitate his career.  He started off so brilliantly, everyone thought he was going to be another great West Indian batsman but he hasn’t really fulfilled that.  I think the more cricket he can play now, especially with the West Indies, is the more he has a chance of getting on track and showing everyone the great player he could be,” Holding said.

“Hetmyer is another talented player and again I’m sorry that he is not going to get more opportunities to express himself, but I’m not blaming them for not going.”

 

 

New Australia coach Dave Rennie has volunteered to take a 30 per cent pay cut ahead of starting his job with the Wallabies next month.

Rugby Australia (RA) reported a provisional deficit of 9.4 million Australian dollars for 2019 back in March, and the impact of the coronavirus has further impacted their finances.

All July internationals have already been scrapped because of the ongoing pandemic and both Australia players and RA staff members have had to take significant pay cuts while the sport is on hold.

Rennie has now followed suit with a pay cut that will last until the end of September, in line with the rest of RA's executive team.

The 56-year-old's appointment as Australia's new coach was confirmed back in November 2019 shortly after the Rugby World Cup concluded.

It is hoped he could be in charge for the first time in October, when international fixtures are set to return.

Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney is hopeful England will not have to play autumn internationals behind closed doors at Twickenham.

England are due to host New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia in November but there are doubts over whether fans will be allowed in due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweeney stressed the importance of supporters being able to attend for financial reasons and, with lockdown measures being gradually eased, he is optimistic Eddie Jones' side will not have to run out in an empty stadium.

"Playing behind closed doors - for us - is not much different to the games being cancelled," he told BBC Sport.

"By the time you fire up the stadium, pay for the players and the costs associated with preparation time and camps, when you play behind closed doors for us, there is not a huge difference between that and the games not taking place.

"Having attendance and having fans turning up is key."

Sweeney added: "If things progress as they seem to be progressing now, hopefully we will see crowds at Twickenham in October and November."

RFU boss Sweeney says alternative options are being explored if southern hemisphere teams are unable to head north.

"The preference from both the north and the south is that the original programme will go ahead," he said.

"But there are two or three different options that feature more northern hemisphere competition around that autumn window.

"One of them is you'd play a Six Nations tournament in that autumn that would combine with fixtures next year and for the first time ever you'd have home and away.

"Every [plan] has pros and cons to it and those are being evaluated."

Rugby Australia (RA) is to cut a third of its full-time staff in the coming months as the organisation attempts to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

RA has been hit hard by the suspension of rugby, with the organisation having previously had to stand three-quarters of their workforce down, while players have taken pay cuts.

Last month RA claimed a World Rugby bailout would provide "certainty for the next 12 months", but on Monday it announced it would be making 47 of its 142 full-time staff redundant.

The redundancies will not come into immediate effect but will take place over the months to come, while senior staff who have been retained have been asked to take a five per cent pay cut.

With all international tours scheduled for July having been cancelled, it is unclear if the Rugby Championship will be able to take place later in the year.

It is expected that the redundancies and pay cuts will reduce RA's wage bill by $5.5million.

"Today was an incredibly difficult day for the organisation with many people affected by changes that are necessary to ensure the viability and sustainability of the organisation as a result of the devastating impacts of the pandemic," interim chief executive Rob Clarke said in a statement.

"We have delivered the news to staff this morning and told them that Rugby Australia values the contribution of each and every one of them, some of whom have given significant service to Rugby Australia and to the game over many years.

"This is a difficult time for a lot of very passionate, hard-working rugby people and we are committed to helping those people find their next opportunity, whether it be within the game or elsewhere."

Rugby Australia (RA) is to cut a third of its full-time staff in the coming months as the organisation attempts to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

RA has been hit hard by the suspension of rugby, with the organisation having previously had to stand three-quarters of their workforce down, while players have taken pay cuts.

Last month RA claimed a World Rugby bailout would provide "certainty for the next 12 months", but on Monday it announced it would be making 47 of its 142 full-time staff redundant.

The redundancies will not come into immediate effect but will take place over the months to come, while senior staff who have been retained have been asked to take a five per cent pay cut.

With all international tours scheduled for July having been cancelled, it is unclear if the Rugby Championship will be able to take place later in the year.

It is expected that the redundancies and pay cuts will reduce RA's wage bill by $5.5million.

"Today was an incredibly difficult day for the organisation with many people affected by changes that are necessary to ensure the viability and sustainability of the organisation as a result of the devastating impacts of the pandemic," interim chief executive Rob Clarke said in a statement.

"We have delivered the news to staff this morning and told them that Rugby Australia values the contribution of each and every one of them, some of whom have given significant service to Rugby Australia and to the game over many years.

"This is a difficult time for a lot of very passionate, hard-working rugby people and we are committed to helping those people find their next opportunity, whether it be within the game or elsewhere."

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