By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - Two Top League rugby matches scheduled for this weekend have been cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreaks at three of the clubs involved, the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) said on Tuesday.
A total of 44 players and staff tested positive for the virus, including 13 at Toyota Verblitz, seven at Suntory Sungoliath and 24 at Canon Eagles, forcing the cancellation of their opening matches of the 2021 season.
Toyota Verblitz and former New Zealand captain Kieran Read had been due to face compatriot Beauden Barrett's Suntory Sungoliath while Ricoh Black Rams were to play Canon Eagles.
It was to be the former All Blacks' first meeting in Japan.
The teams have not released the names of those who have tested positive.
Under league policy, the matches will not be played at a later date and will be registered as draws.
The JRFU said last week that games would be played in front of thousands of fans who had already purchased tickets, despite government guidelines limiting the number of people allowed to attend sporting events.
"We deeply apologise to all the fans who were looking forward to the match," Top League Chairman Ota Osamu said in a statement.
Suntory said on their website ticket holders would be refunded.
Last year's Top League season was cancelled entirely because of the pandemic.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Peter Rutherford)