Six Nations organisers are striving to convince the French government the championship can go ahead safely by introducing a series of stricter Covid-19 protocols – including expanding their testing programme – after it emerged the women’s competition is set to be postponed.
Doubt has been cast on the men’s Six Nations going ahead as planned next month with the French government advising Top 14 clubs against taking part in cross-border competitions. Crunch talks between the French government and the Six Nations will continue on Monday but organisers are hopeful that tightened Covid-19 protocols will provide the necessary guarantees for the competition to begin on 6 February.
The Women’s Six Nations is expected to be postponed until April at the earliest, however. With England the only fully professional side in the competition the issue of testing players and creating biosecure bubbles across all sides has proven all the more difficult to overcome.
The French government’s decision on cross-border club matches is likely to lead to the next two rounds of the European competitions – due to begin on Friday – being postponed amid fears of the spread of the new Covid-19 variant, which is prevalent in the UK. But the Six Nations point to the fact their championship involves fewer matches and that Les Bleus do not face a British team until 28 February. A Six Nations spokesperson said: “We are working hard to hold the tournament as scheduled in each country with Covid protocols further reinforced from the October-November period that saw the successful conclusion of the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup.”
Bernard Laporte, president of the French federation and vice-chairman of World Rugby, struck a more defiant tone, saying: “The tournament will be played with a health protocol dictated by the government and linked to this mutant virus.” Laporte also said there were no current plans to stage the entire competition in one country within a biosecure bubble but did say the option would be considered if the situation deteriorated, also confirming that meetings with the French government and the Six Nations council were scheduled for Monday.