Two of eight games to open the 2021 Japan Rugby Top League season this weekend have been canceled after three of the teams involved confirmed positive coronavirus cases, the Japan Rugby Football Union said Tuesday.
The JRFU said a total of 44 players and staff tested positive for the virus, including 24 from Canon Eagles, 13 from Toyota Verblitz, and seven from Suntory Sungoliath.
"The Top League has created COVID-19 protocols and procedures together with the teams, but there's still so much that's unknown about the virus and we feel threatened," Top League chairman Osamu Ota said in a statement.
"Fortunately none of the players are seriously ill but I pray for their quick recovery," he said.
Suntory were scheduled to meet Toyota on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture, in a game that was set to feature the likes of All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read, Wallabies Michael Hooper, Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon, Rugby World Cup 2019 winner Willie Le Roux from South Africa and a host of Japan internationals.
The other game that has been canceled is Canon's opener against Ricoh Black Rams scheduled for Sunday at Tokyo's Komazawa Stadium.
Neither games will be rescheduled. Under league policy they will be considered draws, with each team getting two points.
This year in the first stage of Japan's top-tier domestic rugby union competition, the 16 Top League teams will be divided into two conferences to determine their seedings for the second stage.
A total of 20 teams, including four from the Top Challenge League, will be split into four groups of five teams in the second stage. The top two teams of each group proceeds to the playoffs.
Last year, the Top League season was canceled in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.