Six Nations still on course to GO AHEAD next month

Six Nations is safe for now despite Covid chaos as French chief insists tournament WILL go on, but virus IS a threat to European club games

  • The Six Nations is still on course to begin next month despite Covid disruption
  • Upcoming European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup fixtures are in doubt 
  • The French government has advised their teams to avoid cross-border matches 

The Six Nations is still on course to begin next month as planned, despite the Covid chaos which has left club rugby in a state of upheaval and European tournaments in danger of being postponed.

On Monday, an official update is expected from organisers EPCR regarding the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup pool fixtures due to take place over the next two weekends.

The French government have advised – but not ordered – their teams to avoid cross-border matches. This has led to speculation that the Six Nations will be similarly disrupted, but those fears were partially allayed on Sunday, at least for the time being.

The Six Nations is still due to begin next month as planned despite European Covid disruption

Bernard Laporte, the president of the French rugby federation, delivered a reassuring message about the prospects of the annual championship proceeding on schedule, providing the pandemic situation does not further deteriorate.

Speaking on RMC Sport, he said: ‘There is no need to be worried for the Six Nations tournament. It will be played out, with an adapted health protocol.’

Sources have also indicated to Sportsmail that preparations are continuing as if the showpiece event will be launched on February 6 when Italy take on France, before England host Scotland at an empty Twickenham.

Northern hemisphere’s flagship tournament is set to start behind closed doors on February 6

There is no appetite among the rights-holding broadcasters to consider postponing the tournament until the end of the season, as it would clash with the European football championships, even if the Lions tour has been shifted to make room in rugby’s crowded calendar.

There were rumours across the Channel that the Six Nations might have to go ahead in one location, to limit the movement of teams which increases the danger of infection. However, that scenario is not thought to be under consideration.

England are understood to be adopting the same ‘common-sense’ bubble arrangements as they did for the Autumn Nations Cup.

This will involve squad isolation in a closed-off area of the Lensbury Hotel in Teddington, south west London, where they will train on site.

However, players will be allowed home visits and it is understood that they will be able to take the rest week which is part of their revised RFU contracts, which reflect a 25 per cent pay cut.

The French government have advised – but not ordered – against cross-border matches

Meanwhile, clubs are desperately seeking clarity about the coming fortnight.

It was initially understood that the French government would block Top 14 teams from facing British opposition, which would in turn lead to the enforced suspension of the European events.

Yet, the latest indications are that they have merely issued guidance and that decisions on whether or not to participate will be left up to the league and clubs themselves.

English clubs are gearing up to play matches next weekend, without knowing for sure if they will be in European or Premiership mode, amid calls for the league schedule to be brought forward, to fill a potential gap in the schedule. Discussions are set to take place on Monday and a ‘circuit-break’ period may also be considered, but the consensus seems to be that the season must go on.

England’s Eddie Jones watches on behind a mask as Harlequins take on London Irish

Broadcasters BT Sport will hope to be able to screen domestic fixtures if the continental events are suspended, while Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam made an impassioned plea for officials to show a willingness to adapt.

‘It is a massive opportunity for the Premiership to bring everything forward and let’s get into round seven and eight, because currently round seven and eight don’t have England players in it,’ he said. ‘We are all prepared to play.

‘If they are going to postpone it (Champions Cup), they’re going to have to find two weekends. We learned last season that it is a massive toll to get the players to play midweek games and we don’t want to go down that road again.

‘If we play now and bring it forward, it is going to open up those weeks, so it is health and safety for the players and also the boys are training.

Bernard Laporte, president of French rugby federation, said there was no reason to be worried

‘We are one of five that have played every game. Some teams haven’t played two games or one game from COVID and they are all prepared. We are all good to go. We have got Bath next (in the Premiership), so let’s play Bath with both teams fully loaded. Let’s keep rugby going.’

Lam’s counterpart at Exeter, Rob Baxter, added: ‘I would like to think they will move positively and quickly and bring Premiership games forward.

‘If we’re going to play European games we’ve got to create space somewhere. The only way to do that is to shift Premiership games.’

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