Growing concerns over the championship with fixtures yet to be announced
Uncertainty over 2021 Women’s Six Nations
There are growing concerns over when, or even if, this year’s Women’s Six Nations will take place.
The women’s championship, which generally mirrors the men’s, is due to kick off in less than a month but the fixtures have not yet been confirmed.
While the dates for this year’s men’s championship were announced back in 2019, the women’s fixtures are often announced much later, although they would usually be known by now.
The continually changing picture regarding Covid-19 restrictions in the countries involved complicates matters, as we saw last year. Grand Slam winners England were the only team to play all five of their 2020 championship games as three fixtures were cancelled last autumn due to the coronavirus.
Six Nations organisers are having ongoing discussions in order to stage the championship and are expected to make an announcement next week, but there is a lot of uncertainty.
As the RFU head of women’s performance Nicky Ponsford told BBC Sport: “I do have concerns about how well we’re going to be able to get through this period.”
While England’s players are professional and would be able to operate in a ‘bubble’ for the Six Nations, the same is not true of the other countries. France are semi-pro so may be able to commit to a similar training environment, but most Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales players are amateur, balancing rugby alongside jobs.
On top of that are the travel restrictions in different countries. In the autumn, France agreed to play their fixture against Ireland in Dublin rather than Lille (before it was cancelled due to positive Covid cases) because the Irish players would have had to isolate for 14 days on their return had the match been played in France. That obviously presented problems given their work and family commitments, particularly as many players work in teaching and medicine.
If those restrictions remain for the Women’s Six Nations, Ireland would need to play all their matches at home.
It is also not clear if the Women’s Six Nations would fall under ‘elite sport’ in France and Italy, meaning those national teams would be exempt from certain travel restrictions. The women’s domestic leagues in France have been suspended since November.
The Six Nations could be moved to a later window, perhaps April-May when the hope is that restrictions will have been eased, or maybe there will be limited fixtures with, say, England, Scotland and Wales playing matches with no air travel required.
There are knock-on effects to any alternative plans, particularly in a World Cup year. A delay to the Six Nations would likely also delay the European RWC 2021 qualifiers, which involve Ireland, Italy, Scotland and the European Rugby Championship winner (still to be decided as that tournament has also been postponed). That in turn would delay the final qualifying tournament.
World Rugby could decide that the Six Nations fixtures involving Ireland, Italy and Scotland should double up as RWC 2021 qualifiers. That was already due to be the case with the Italy v Scotland match scheduled for December until that, too, was cancelled and would reduce the amount of fixtures to fit in as the timeframe between now and the World Cup in New Zealand shortens.
There is no easy fix given the ever-changing situation regarding the pandemic, but it’s important teams can adequately prepare for the World Cup or the integrity of that tournament will be called into question.
Can’t get to the shops? You can 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.