Sporting calendars are currently in turmoil due to the coronavirus pandemic, with governing bodies facing the troublesome task of deciding whether competitions should be postponed, rescheduled or even abandoned. Rugby has embraced this problem by taking different courses of action. Tournaments like Japan’s Top League and the United States’ Major League Rugby have been cancelled completely. Meanwhile, competitions that were at slightly more advanced stages of the season such as the Gallagher Premiership and the Top 14 have only been suspended for now.

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With so much uncertainty at this time in the world, sport understandably is not a priority and therefore there is no clarity on how the different competitions will pan out. Whatever happens, teams at least have this layoff period to let their players rest before what could be a very intense run of fixtures. Moreover, when the action does restart, some teams will be handed the very welcome return of players who had been injured being able to help with a late-season push. 

With that delayed end to the season in mind, here are some players who could return to play their part having initially thought they would miss a huge part of the season due to injury: 

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Billy Vunipola talks to Jim Hamilton in The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

Billy Vunipola

England’s No8 missed the Six Nations after breaking his arm for the fourth time while playing for Saracens in January. The 27-year-old was in a race to return for his club to play in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster at the start of April. With that postponed, he will be fit should anything eventually be played in Europe.

With nothing to play for domestically this season, Saracens can only rely on their European endeavours for success, meaning they will want to field the best team possible against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium. From England’s perspective, Vunipola will also be available for the final Six Nations match against Italy whenever that is to be played. Eddie Jones’ side require a bonus-point win to put them in contention for the championship title. 

Piers Francis

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The England and Northampton Saints midfielder was stretchered off the field in late January in the Gallagher Premiership loss to London Irish, suffering from a second head injury in quick succession. 

He had not returned for Chris Boyd’s side by the time all rugby was brought to a halt. In that time, the Saints lost three matches (including the one he came off in), but they still sit in fourth place in the Premiership and are into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup. Francis should be back when rugby resumes, which will be delightful news to all involved with Northampton. 

Joey Carbery 

Ireland and Munster fly-half Joey Carbery is expected to be out of action until pre-season of the 2020/21 campaign after ankle and wrist operations, but with the entire calendar looking so nebulous, that could actually become the tail-end of this season. 

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Munster are in a promising position in the Guinness PRO14 and Carbery could make an encouraging return should the rest of the season be played out belatedly. That is still fairly unlikely, given how long he was expected to be out for, but the main positive is that he is likely to be available for the denouement of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, which will probably be played in the autumn. 

Andy Farrell’s side, who still have to face Italy in Dublin and France in Paris, are still very much in the hunt for the title. Carbery’s return could provide some competition for Jonathan Sexton, or at the very least add more potency from the bench. 

Cian Healy

Ruled out for the remainder of the Six Nations after coming off against England with a hip injury, the prop will be yet another boost for Ireland when they resume their campaign later this year. What would have been most disappointing for the 32-year-old was that the final match of this year’s Championship in Paris would have been his 100th Ireland cap, which would have been all the more special with the title on the line. He will now have the chance to fight for a place in the team later on this year to achieve that milestone. 

The loosehead was targeting a return for the Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens, so his injury was not too serious, but it may have been touch-and-go as to whether he would have made it against the reigning champions. With the delay in matches, Leo Cullen will now be encouraged his veteran prop should be fit for a potentially promising end of the season for Leinster. 

Josh Adams

The Wales winger missed his country’s most recent Six Nations contest against England at Twickenham following surgery to an ankle injury sustained against France. With ten tries in his previous ten Tests, Adams is one of the most lethal finishers in the game but was expected to spend three months on the sidelines. 

The good news for Wales is that he is now likely to be fit for their fixture against Scotland in Cardiff in what was the Super Saturday fixture. The bad news is that there is not much to play for in that fixture. With the Cardiff Blues also stuttering this season in the PRO14, his return may not change a lot. 

National boss Wayne Pivac could also expect the return of Jonathan Davies and Gareth Anscombe for that Scotland Test should it be played in the latter stages of this year. Both players are nursing long term knee injuries and while they are not expected to play at all this season, regardless of when it is finished, they should be back playing by the autumn. 

Jordan Petaia 

For the second season running, the promising Australia and Reds outside back was ruled out of the Super Rugby season very early on. Last year it was a foot injury and this year a dislocated shoulder for the 20-year-old, which put his participation in the July Test matches in doubt as well. 

The Super Rugby season was originally expected to finish in June but that could be pushed back by a matter of months, meaning Petaia could make a return to Brad Thorn’s Reds for the back end of the season. 

For many players from the southern hemisphere who are injured, this current suspension means they may not miss the opportunity to represent their countries in July with many Tests expected to be abandoned. Players will be hoping to return for a delayed Rugby Championship. 

Quinten Strange

This was expected to be the breakout season for the Crusaders lock in the absence of Sam Whitelock. Unfortunately, a broken hand in a pre-season fixture put all plans on hold for the 23-year-old, who would have been hoping to work his way into Ian Foster’s All Blacks squad for July. 

Although it looks increasingly likely that those Test matches will not go ahead, Strange will nonetheless want to return to a Crusaders side that did not look at its imperious best in the opening six games of the season. Scott Robertson’s side still sits on top of the New Zealand conference, but they have not swept aside all in front of them as they have in seasons past.

Finn Russell

The Scotland out-half isn’t injured and was still playing for Racing 92 before the pandemic stoppage, but his Scotland career was on hold due to his feud with coach Gregor Townsend. By the time rugby resumes, he expects to be on better terms with the Scottish boss which would put him in contention for Scotland’s summer tour of South Africa, albeit one that is unlikely to be played. 

With Scotland still waiting to visit Cardiff for the final match of the Six Nations, Russell’s return would provide a boost to the team and could help the Scots finish what would be a decent tournament for them. 

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