Thursday 5 March 2020 8:24 pm

Six Nations organisers had no choice but to postpone Italy v England over coronavirus but Saracens' handling of Vunipola is ill-considered

Coronavirus is all over the news at the moment and rugby is no exception after it emerged that England’s final Six Nations game against Italy had been postponed as a precaution. 

It is a shame for the tournament, which has been bubbling up nicely ahead of its conclusion next weekend, but organisers really had no option.

I have sympathy with them because they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Morally, they could not let 70,000 fans turn up to the Stadio Olimpico on 15 March in the capital of Europe’s most affected country. 

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Doing so would have been perceived as hugely irresponsible and may have destroyed the organisation’s credibility.

Six Nations chiefs say they want to reschedule the men’s, women’s and under-20s games at later dates, but that will prove very difficult, with Ireland’s match against Italy in Dublin this weekend also postponed.

ITALY-HEALTH-VIRUS
Italy has closed schools and universities until March 15 to help combat the spread of coronavirus crisis (via Getty Images)

When can they play them? I’ve heard that they may be looking at September or October. That would be ridiculous, with different players potentially providing a completely different outcome and undermining the competition.

Reckless Saracens?

Coronavirus has also raised another talking point, with England standing down Mako Vunipola for Saturday’s Wales game after he travelled through Hong Kong recently, only for Saracens to welcome the prop back to club training. 

I think England’s stance was the right one. They have to play safe, with virus symptoms not always showing themselves straight away. 

Mako Vunipola and Eddie Jones
Vunipola was not included in England’s squad for the Wales game, but went to train with Saracens instead (via Getty Images)

Saracens’ actions may therefore appear ill-considered. Vunipola could put team-mates or others at risk, and for what?

Sarries don’t stand to gain much from his inclusion, with Saturday’s Premiership game against Leicester hardly important after their relegation. I don’t understand their thinking.

Watson returns

England’s match against Wales at Twickenham has thankfully not been affected and the hosts have named their squad, with Mark Wilson and Anthony Watson playing for the first time since the World Cup. 

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Watson replacing Jonathan Joseph on the wing makes sense – he’s world class, good under the high ball and means England have their first-choice back three on the pitch.

Anthony Watson
Watson is back after recovering from a calf injury (via Getty Images)

Wilson’s reintroduction is an interesting call from Eddie Jones.

If Sam Underhill was fit I don’t know if he would have come in to the back row and if I were Lewis Ludlam or Ben Earl I would be unhappy to see him jumping the queue to start, having only returned from knee surgery at the beginning of February.

Wales desperate

Wayne Pivac has made four changes for Wales, who are desperate for a win after being slightly off the pace in defeat by France last time out.

Their team looks good on paper, but there are question marks. Josh Navidi replaces Toby Faletau at No8 despite not having played since 12 January, while winger Liam Williams gets a baptism of fire after four months out.

Josh Navidi of Cardiff Blues
Navidi of Cardiff Blues has missed the first three Six Nations games with a hamstring complaint (via Getty Images)

Dan Biggar also starts after suffering a hyper-extended knee last weekend, while George North went off against France with concussion and has been out of form. 

Wales have not been far off it, despite their two defeats. However, I think England’s firepower at Twickenham will prove too much for them to handle.

I’m predicting a fairly comfortable home win.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn

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