CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — At a fearful time when competitions are stopping and stadiums are empty, the Wales-Scotland rugby match on Saturday in the Six Nations is going ahead.
The green light on Thursday afternoon came from Wales Health Minister Vaughan Gething, to whose advice on the coronavirus the Welsh Rugby Union is adhering.
Gething’s reasoning was “the science doesn’t tell us (banning large-crowd events) really makes a difference either in significantly delaying the peak of the outbreak or indeed in terms of saving life.”
Even so, others with influence made decisions that left Wales-Scotland as the only major rugby international being played anywhere this weekend.
On what should have been the Six Nations’ Super Saturday — the climactic final round — the Italy-England and France-Ireland matches were postponed long ago, pushing the competition’s end to maybe October. All of the Women’s Six Nations matches this weekend were put off, including Wales-Scotland after a Scotland player tested positive for COVID-19.
As Gething was explaining his rationale, the European Rugby Championship, the so-called Six Nations B, was suspended; the Pro14 involving the Celtic clubs and Italy’s and South Africa’s also suddenly halted; and the Wales Football Association called off the Wales-US soccer friendly in Cardiff more than two weeks ahead.
As of Thursday, there were 25 people confirmed with the virus in Wales, and 60 in Scotland.
“I do understand that things move fast, but we’re two days away so it would be a surprise if the game was called off this late,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, whose team turned up at Edinburgh Airport wearing protective gloves.
“I think everyone involved will know if it’s time to either not play the game or play the games behind closed doors, and that’s what we’ll follow. We’ve followed all procedures and protocols regarding contact and washing hands. We hope that we get to play this weekend. We understand if that’s not the case it’s for serious reasons.”
The match has long been a 74,000-seat sellout, and social media seems to be buzzing with as many people wanting to sell their tickets as people wanting to buy them.
That’s because, though the Six Nations appears to be fizzing out from the postponements, there’s still a lot riding on the game in Cardiff.
Scotland, after opening with losses to Ireland and England, will remarkably move on top of the standings if it can beat Wales in Cardiff for the first time since 2002.
Thanks to Scotland beating France last weekend at Murrayfield, four teams have a shot at the title: Current leader England, France, Scotland, and Ireland, which has two games in hand.
Wales’ title defense evaporated three weeks ago, and consecutive defeats to Ireland, France, and England make up its worst losing run in the championship since 2007. But its hoping to find a little extra inspiration for captain Alun Wyn Jones, who will equal Richie McCaw’s caps world record in his 148th test.
New Wales coach Wayne Pivac, asked if he was feeling the pressure after failing to deliver in his first Six Nations, said no.
Pivac’s assistant, Wales great Neil Jenkins, says its natural that a change in coach after Warren Gatland’s glittery 12-year tenure was always going to have an impact.
“We all see the game in different ways. We’re so used to what Warren wanted,” Jenkins said. “This is different.”
What isn’t different is Wales’ ability to fix its problem, he added, the main ones being playing smart and finishing chances.
“Chances are coming our way but we’re not taking them. We’re trying to be a bit more clinical,” Jenkins said.
“We’re trying to be better and evolve our game. It’s understanding when to play or not to. It’s not down to one person, it’s a team thing. When it’s on, it’s on. But it’s finding balance.”
Like deciding whether to play in a pandemic. For now, it’s on.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Nick Tompkins, Hadleigh Parkes, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Cory Hill, WillGriff John, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Ryan Elias, Rhys Carre, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Taulupe Faletau, Gareth Davies, Jarrod Evans, Johnny McNicholl.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Zander Fagerson, Stuart McInally, Rory Sutherland. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Willem Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Duncan Weir, Kyle Steyn.
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