The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) is on the lookout for a new home after confirming that Principality Stadium will be off limits for the remainder of the year.
In May, the WRU said the contract for the Cardiff venue to remain as a field hospital during COVID-19 had been extended until early autumn. The Dragon’s Heart Hospital, with a capacity of 1,500 beds, was first opened on April 29 to help ease pressure on the NHS amid the pandemic. The initial contract with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board was due to run until July 10, but was lengthened through to at least September.
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips has now said Wales will not play any home games at Principality Stadium for the rest of the year. He added: “Our decision to step in to provide a location for a surge hospital at the height of the pandemic, along with the scale of the investment to construct the Dragon’s Heart Hospital in the Stadium, has meant that we have agreed in principle to extend the hospital until the autumn.
“We have yet to finalise a contract on the extension, as, this time, it is a little more complex and there are a number of circumstances that need to be covered. We hope to sign the contract shortly.”
Wales was due to play its rearranged 2020 Six Nations match against Scotland on October 31 in Cardiff, before an autumn series of games against South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji and Argentina.
The BBC said the Scotland Six Nations game should still take place on the same date, but the autumn internationals will be replaced by a tournament involving the Six Nations teams and two countries out of Fiji, Japan and Georgia between November 14 and December 5.
The World Rugby Executive Committee yesterday (Wednesday) recommended a revised temporary 2020 international calendar with the “express objective” of optimising recovery from the pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels.
A temporary international window between October 24 and December 5 has been recommended. In the northern hemisphere, this window will accommodate the postponed men’s and women’s Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on November 7 and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from November 14 through to December 5.
Phillips said: “There has been much commentary in relation to the men’s Autumn Series fixtures. The reality is we continue to juggle a number of unknowns. Whilst we expect to replay our postponed Guinness Six Nations 2020 fixture with Scotland, the competition format and opposition for additional autumn games are yet to be agreed. We hope for news on these fixtures in the coming weeks, but in the meantime have initiated a process to provide refund, credit or donate options to all existing ticket holders for the Scotland game.”
Concerning how the WRU will seek to replace Principality Stadium, he added: “Assuming games are staged this autumn, if restrictions mean that we are playing behind closed doors those games are likely to be staged in Wales and we are exploring a range of options.
“If the games can be staged with crowds in some form those games are likely to be in and around London and, again, we are exploring a range of options. The most difficult scenario will be if games are allowed with crowds in England but not in Wales.
“There are clearly a range of risks here not least Welsh fans leaving Wales to attend a game and then returning. Clearly this risk also occurs for away games. We very much hope that by the autumn, restrictions whatever they be in relation to sports events, are aligned across the UK.
“On a more optimistic footing, we plan to be back playing at the Principality Stadium, hopefully in front of full crowds against England and Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations in February 2021.”
In terms of other Principality Stadium events, Phillips said 2021 has the potential to “very busy” as promoters and acts look to return. He added that the WRU also hopes to have the Westgate Hotel open during the second part of next year.
The WRU was given the green light for the project in August and it had been hoped it would open in December 2020.
Image: Principality Stadium