Rugby is on tenterhooks this morning with a dark Covid shadow hanging over the Guinness Six Nations in both Men’s and Women’s tournaments, and the Heineken Champions’ Cup.
The catalyst for fears over the tournaments going ahead as scheduled emanates from France where the Government is considering a full closure of borders to certain countries where the UK variant of the virus is now prevalent, including the UK and most likely Ireland.
Meetings have taken place internally among French Government departments and sporting bodies and news is expected today on at least two of the fronts.
The Heineken Cup’s final two rounds of Group fixtures are scheduled to take place next weekend with multiple French teams down to travel to or host teams from across Britain and Ireland.
Both Leinster and Munster are due to host French opposition in Montpellier and Clermont Auvergne.
The sense is that creating an exemption for elite athletes is no longer a risk worth taking, particularly given that there would be teams in action from across the country.
A decision is expected from European Professional Club Rugby later today.
If the games are postponed there is a strong sense that games in the Guinness PRO14 and English premiership which had been lost over the Christmas period, will be rescheduled for next weekend and the Heineken Cup matches pushed back.
That is where the many moving parts of the rugby calendar begin to work against each other.
There are windows that work once everything is played on time but if the situation has not improved dramatically over the next five weeks before the start of the Guinness Six Nations, then schedulers will have to start dancing on a pinhead to make sure that matches, public safety and player welfare all add up.
Bernard Laporte, President of French Rugby said yesterday that there were no plans for a ‘bubble’ environment where teams could be housed together in a single venue and matches played off against each other in that bubble as was the case with the NBA in 2020.
That would be at the extreme end of tighter restrictions that might be needed.
The inability of amateur groups in the Women’s game to do so though is the reason given for the more likely postponement of the Women’s Six Nations which is due to be run at the same time as the Men’s.
With the Women’s Rugby World Cup scheduled to take place later this year and space yet to be found for the final qualifier tournaments, in which the Irish, Scottish and Italian teams from the Six Nations are still involved, the complications are obvious and growing.
The U20 Six Nations tournament is scheduled to get underway one week earlier than the main event.
We expect to know more later today on how the various different scenarios may be worked out.
Sport for Business Partners