Virus hits Japan's Top League, All Blacks' showpiece scrapped

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All Blacks star Beauden Barrett is a new recruit of Japan's Suntory Sungoliath

A season-opening clash featuring All Blacks stars Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read was scrapped on Tuesday after dozens of people tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan's Top League rugby.

The outbreak comes during a surge in cases which has prompted a state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area, just six months before the capital is scheduled to host the postponed 2020 Olympics.

The Top League announced 44 people from three teams -- Toyota Verblitz, Suntory Sungoliath and Canon Eagles -- tested positive in pre-season screening, without revealing any identities or how many were players or staff.

As a result, "Japan Rugby Top League chairman Osamu Ota decided to cancel two matches (involving the three clubs) after discussions with stakeholders", a statement said.

Another team, Toshiba Brave Lupus, later said two of their players had tested positive. There was no announcement about their game against NTT Shining Arcs on Saturday, but the team said all players would quarantine until further notice.

The cancelled matches include the opening-day match-up between Read's Toyota Verblitz and Barrett's Suntory Sungoliath on Saturday.

The games will not be rescheduled, but will be recorded as 0-0 draws with the teams awarded two points each. Tickets will be refunded, the league added, apologising to fans.

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

The worsening situation appears to have hardened public opinion against holding the Olympics this summer, with just over 80 percent of respondents in a poll published Sunday favouring further postponement or outright cancellation.

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