THIS year’s Rugby World Cup, due to take place in New Zealand in September and October, is set to be postponed by a year for pandemic-related reasons.

World Rugby last night recommended the postponement, and that recommendation is expected to be rubber-stamped by the RWC board and World Rugby’s executive council when those two bodies meet next week.

Bryan Easson’s Scotland team had been due to take part in qualifying matches over the next couple of months, and the possibility had been mooted that the Six Nations game against Italy in April would double up as one of those qualifiers. News earlier this week that Jade Konkel is to take a break from rugby meant that Scotland, already facing an uphill battle to make it to the finals, were likely to go into those qualifiers without their most influential player.

Late last year World Rugby announced a hastily rearranged format for the tournament, which would have seen 12 teams initially divided into three pools. New Zealand, Australia and Wales were in Pool A along with a fourth team to be decided, Canada and the USA were due to be joined by two qualifiers in Pool B, and Pool C already had a full house of England, France, Fiji and South Africa.

The qualifying process had been widely criticised because it would have excluded some high-ranking teams, the aim being to get a greater geographical spread of qualifiers. It remains to be seen if World Rugby will revise the ground rules of the competition once new dates are set for it.

The decision was announced last night in a statement on the global governing body’s website. “World Rugby has made the difficult decision to recommend the postponement of Rugby World Cup 2021, scheduled to be hosted in New Zealand between 18 September-16 October, until next year,” it said. “The recommendation will be considered by the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee on 8 and 9 March respectively.

“While appreciating the recommendation is extremely disappointing for teams and fans, it has their interests at heart, and gives the tournament the best opportunity to be all it can be for them, all New Zealanders and the global rugby family. The recommendation is based on the evolution of the uncertain and challenging global COVID-19 landscape.

“It has become clear in recent discussions with key partners including New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand Government and participating unions, that, given the scale of the event and the COVID-19-related uncertainties, it is just not possible to deliver the environment for all teams to be the best that they can be on the sport’s greatest stage. The challenges include uncertainty and the ability for teams to prepare adequately for a Rugby World Cup tournament both before and on arrival in New Zealand, and challenging global travel restrictions.

“World Rugby can assure teams, New Zealanders and the global rugby family that the recommendation to postpone the tournament will help to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2021 will be all it can be next year for players, fans and the rugby family – one of the great Rugby World Cups. Further updates will be issued following the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee meetings next week.”

A statement on the SRU website said:

"Scottish Rugby is naturally disappointed with the news and we await further update following the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee meeting on 8 and 9 March.

"Scotland Women’s focus now turns to preparing for the upcoming Six Nations tournament in April."