The latest restrictions in the countries involved
How Covid could affect the Six Nations
The 2022 Six Nations kicks off in a few weeks, on 5 February, but Covid restrictions in various countries involved could cause disruption to the championship.
It was expected that this year’s tournament would be played in front of capacity crowds after taking place behind closed doors in 2021. However, current regulations relating to the pandemic – and particularly the spread of the Omicron variant – are raising question marks over whether that will be possible.
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter suggested last week that playing the Six Nations in one country would be better than cancelling it, although a cancellation or postponement seems unlikely given all the TV and sponsorship revenue wrapped up in the tournament.
Still, all the uncertainty over crowd numbers and travel restrictions makes it particularly difficult for fans planning to attend matches.
Below we run through what restrictions are currently in place in the countries involved and what that could mean for this year’s Six Nations.
How Covid could affect the Six Nations
Boris Johnson is sticking with ‘Plan B’ restrictions in England. In terms of sporting events, there are no restrictions on crowd sizes but spectators need to show a ‘Covid pass’ to gain entry to stadiums to show they are double vaccinated or have returned a negative PCR/lateral flow test within the past 48 hours.
So England’s two home games against Wales (26 February) and Ireland (12 March) should go ahead in front of sellout crowds at Twickenham.
The French government imposed travel restrictions in mid-December that prevented travel from the UK to France unless there was “a compelling reason” to travel. That resulted in seven European matches being postponed.
Those rules have now been relaxed and the organisers of the two European cup competitions have said that the fixtures in rounds three and four scheduled for the coming weekends will go ahead as planned, with elite athletes able to travel for competitions.
However, it’s not yet clear whether fans will be able to travel to Paris for France’s Six Nations matches against Italy, Ireland and England. A limit of 5,000 fans at open-air stadiums has been temporarily imposed this month. While this is due to be lifted before the Six Nations, there is no certainty on that.
The French rugby federation has said: “We are dependent on governmental measures, which is why, like the Six Nations Committee, we do not yet have a precise vision of public access to the matches for the tournament.”
A new health bill is also set to remove the option of showing a negative Covid test result to gain a French health pass to access events, so fans would need to be fully vaccinated.
This year’s Six Nations gets underway at the Aviva Stadium when Ireland face Wales on Saturday 5 February, but there are doubts over whether a capacity 51,700 crowd will be in attendance.
Crowds at outdoor sporting events are currently limited to a maximum of 5,000, with the rules in place until the end of January. It’s not yet clear whether the restriction on spectators will be lifted in time for the Six Nations, when Ireland also host Italy and Scotland in Dublin, or could be extended into February, with the IRFU in talks with the Irish government.
While there are currently no limits on crowd sizes in Italy, since December people wishing to attend sporting events do need to prove they are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid via its ‘super green pass’.
So fans planning to go to Italy’s home matches against England and Scotland would likely need to show a Covid pass to prove their vaccination status.
The Calcutta Cup match is always a key date in the Six Nations fixtures list and this year takes place on the opening weekend – and it now looks like there will be a capacity crowd at BT Murrayfield.
Matches in Scotland have effectively been played behind closed doors since mid-December, with a limit of 500 fans in place, but that restriction will be lifted on Monday, 17 January, allowing Scotland’s Six Nations matches against England and France to be played in front of big crowds.
Before Christmas, crowds were banned at sporting events in Wales and matches moved behind closed doors, although the majority of Welsh derbies scheduled to take place in the United Rugby Championship over the festive period were postponed due to Covid cases in playing squads.
However, the Welsh government has now announced that those restrictions will be lifted at outdoor events from Friday 21 January and indoor events a week later as cases of Omicron are falling.
The WRU had been considering moving their Six Nations games to England due to the restrictions, but this news means that Wales’ home matches against Scotland, France and Italy can be played in front of capacity crowds at the Principality Stadium.
Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.