Virus hits Japanese Top League, scrapped All Blacks centerpiece

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Tokyo (AFP)

A season opener starring All Blacks stars Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read was dropped on Tuesday after dozens of people tested positive for the coronavirus in Japanese Top League rugby.

The outbreak comes amid an outbreak of cases that triggered a state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area, just six months before the capital was slated to host the postponed 2020 Olympics.

The Top League said 44 people from three teams – Toyota Verblitz, Suntory Sungoliath and Canon Eagles – tested positive in the preseason screening, without revealing any identities or how many were players or staff.

As a result, “the president of the Japan Rugby Top League, Osamu Ota, has decided to cancel two matches (involving the three clubs) after discussions with the stakeholders,” a statement read.

The canceled matches include the opener between Read’s Toyota Verblitz and Barrett’s Suntory Sungoliath on Saturday.

Matches will not be rescheduled, but will be recorded as 0-0 draws, with teams receiving two points each. Tickets will be refunded, the league added, apologizing to fans.

The rugby group comes as Japan battles a third wave of viral infections that has caused a record spike in cases.

The worsening situation appears to have hardened public opinion against hosting the Olympics this summer, with just over 80% of respondents to a poll released on Sunday in favor of further postponement or outright cancellation and simple.

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