The match is set to be rescheduled for 26 March, with Premiership clubs expected to release Scotland players
Why France v Scotland should be played
The revelations about the France ‘bubble’ – or lack thereof – have led to calls for Scotland to be awarded a 28-0 win for their postponed Six Nations match, but the result must be determined on the pitch rather than in a boardroom.
Questions have rightly been asked about how France’s Covid-19 cases reached double figures. The news that players dined out on waffles in Rome and head coach Fabien Galthie went to watch his son play rugby only raised more eyebrows. Not quite the Covid-secure environment the French government was calling for pre-tournament with people moving in and out of camp.
Yet cancelling the match not only denies fans the chance to watch what should be a great contest but also leaves tournament organisers liable to repay money to broadcasters.
The good news is that the match is now set to be played on Friday 26 March – with The Times reporting that Premiership clubs are prepared to release their Scotland players for the fixture, even though it falls outside the international window, so both teams would still be at full strength. It’s the right call.
In the Autumn Nations Cup, Fiji had to forfeit their three pool games after a Covid-19 outbreak. Their opponents for each of those matches were awarded a 28-0 bonus-point win, meaning the Fijians could finish no higher than seventh (which they did after beating Georgia in their ‘final’).
However, the format of that tournament was different to the Six Nations. Three pool matches were followed by ‘finals’, all played on back-to-back weekends, so there was no scope to rearrange fixtures and still get 1st v 1st, 2nd v 2nd and so on facing each other in the last round.
Six Nations organisers said before this year’s championship started that it was their intention to reschedule matches that had to be called off because of Covid. There isn’t that time pressure to build up to a ‘final’ like in the Autumn Nations Cup, albeit that the champions being determined on Super Saturday is a lot more straightforward.
Cancelling the match would also complicate matters in terms of television deals. The BBC, France 2 and others have paid for the rights to televise France v Scotland live. If the match doesn’t take place, they would be owed a rebate – a nightmare given the state of rugby’s finances right now.
Plus, people want to see this match played, to watch Finn Russell go up against Matthieu Jalibert, to see Antoine Dupont and Duhan van der Merwe and Gregory Alldritt and Hamish Watson…
Having said all of the above, France must surely be sanctioned – either by the Six Nations, World Rugby or their own government – for their apparent ambivalence to Covid-19 protocols.
Of course, the lack of transparency in rugby means we don’t exactly know what is in the tournament regulations when it comes to Covid-19, bubbles and so on. Each country seems to be taking a slightly different approach, with governments’ respective rules playing a part too.
However, it’s clear the team environments are far from the biosecure variety that England and West Indies cricketers were operating in last summer. The homes of players and staff are counted as part of each country’s bubble whereas in cricket no one was allowed to pop home – Jofra Archer was actually fined for doing just that.
While we don’t know precisely what the tournament rules are, eating out and leaving camp to see family would likely have been breaking them. So what of a punishment?
Wales suspended Josh Adams suspended for two matches for breaching their protocols, as well as government rules, by attending a family gathering.
How about a fine for Galthie and/or the French rugby federation? This could be used to compensate Premiership clubs for the absence of their Scotland players for this fixture, although it seems the English top flight are going to make a payment-free exemption given the circumstances.
A points deduction is another option, although too small and it would have little impact on the title race, too big and it could mean the championship isn’t decided on the pitch. So a fine is likely the best course of action, or a touchline ban meaning Galthie couldn’t attend the France v Scotland match in Paris.
Let’s just hope there are no more Covid outbreaks between now and 26 March…
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