International rugby is returning in October

Dublin (AFP) - International rugby is set to resume in October after the World Rugby Council on Thursday approved a temporary 2020 calendar following the coronavirus shutdown.

The Six Nations, put on hold in March, will be completed on October 24 and 31, with a rest weekend after that, followed by four consecutive rounds of international matches.

The southern hemisphere Rugby Championship will take place over a reduced six-week period between November 7 and the second weekend in December.

Southern hemisphere governing body SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) has asked New Zealand to host the tournament.

World Rugby said in a statement that approval for the temporary calendar came after “extensive and productive dialogue” between the sport’s major stakeholders, balancing the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “Throughout this process, all parties have sought to deliver the best possible outcome to support the interests of international and club rugby and the players.

“Agreement and approval of this schedule is exciting for players and fans and an important step in supporting our unions in mitigating financial impact and optimising the sport’s return from the pandemic in an equitable way.”

There is one full round of Six Nations matches to be played, although Ireland and Italy both have two games remaining.

England are top of the table, ahead of France on points difference.

This year’s autumn Tests in the northern hemisphere are expected to be replaced by an eight-team tournament in which the Six Nations sides will be joined by Japan and Fiji.

The English Premiership is due to resume next month and the knockout stages of the European club competitions in September.

A fierce debate has raged over potential schedules, with the Premiership and French league as well as players’ unions concerned over a possible fixture pile-up.

The Premiership final is taking place on October 24, the same day the Six Nations resumes.

World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte said: “Today represents an important day for our sport as the first steps towards recovery from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been no small effort and there have been some robust conversations, but the position approved by council today represents the best interests of the global game and I look forward to seeing the world’s best players doing what they do best back on the international stage.”