France will play opening Six Nations game but others to depend on Covid


The Six Nations will be able to start on time but whether it is played to a finish on time hinges on whether the British and Irish governments have their number of Covid-19 cases under control by the second week of next month.

The French government, which this week advised the Top 14 clubs to pull out of the two European club competitions because of the high daily number of positive tests for the virus in Britain and Ireland, has approved only France’s opening match of the tournament which is in Rome against Italy.

The Six Nations held talks with French government officials on Tuesday and afterwards the sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said: “We keep the first match but, on the other hand, when it comes to Ireland and England [the second and fourth matches], we absolutely need to have the necessary guarantees from those countries.

“There has to be proof that the other nations’ virus framework respects the same requirements [as France] in terms of precautions. We expect the same thing from other teams.”

The Six Nations pointed out that international tournaments are different to club competitions because once players come into camp having been tested, they operate in a bubble, only allowed outside with permission, even for a walk in the hotel grounds, and not returning home each night.

They cannot afford not to play the tournament, even without crowds, after 10 months in which they have all taken a significant financial hit. Moving the tournament back even a month is complicated because there is no slack in the club seasons and a summer tournament would clash with the Lions tour to South Africa.

That trip is looking increasingly unlikely to go ahead with new variants of the virus driving up transmission rates in both countries and no timetable for a vaccine yet in South Africa, but a summer Six Nations would have to be approved by the broadcasters and the French clubs would protest because their season starts in August.

The women’s Under-20s Six Nations, which is traditionally run in tandem with the men’s, is set to be postponed until April with official confirmation of the delay expected on Wednesday.

England’s first match is against Scotland at Twickenham on 6 February and their head coach, Eddie Jones, will have some players in his squad who will not have played for a month or more after Premiership Rugby’s decision to take a break for the next two weekends rather than bring forward two rounds to fill the slack left by the European postponements.

“The break is not ideal for the players,” said the the England and Harlequins wing, Chris Ashton. “We were due to play anyway so I do not think it matters what competition it is. The last thing we want is to go two weekends without a game. It keeps everyone fit and firing.” Premiership Rugby is due to give an explanation for its decision on Wednesday, but the Worcester head coach Jonathan Thomas, whose side is on a six-match losing streak, believes it made the right call.

“It is a difficult season given the volume of games week after week and this is probably just what we need going into a tough series of fixtures,” he said. “The whole squad have been given the week off which means we can have two weeks of preparation for our next game against Exeter, time we will have to work with our new senior assistant coach, Mark Jones.” The Exeter prop Tomas Francis is joining Ospreys in the summer on a three-year contract to prolong his international career while the Scottish duo James Lang and Glen Young are leaving Harlequins for Edinburgh.

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