Despite a sharp increase in numbers for Covid-19 and both governments declaring cordons on Monday, the Rugby Football Union expects England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland next month to be played behind closed doors.
On February 6, Twickenham will host the Calcutta Cup and both the RFU and Six Nations plan to go ahead with the championship on the current calendar, although there are reports that if the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa does not go ahead, it may be moved to the summer.
The possibility of the Lions tour taking place this summer looked more doubtful Monday when Health Minister Matt Hancock said he was “very concerned” that the South African version of Covid-19 could gain a foothold in Britain.
However, it is understood that the federations have not publicly discussed moving the Six Nations to a time when audiences are more capable of watching matches, though not entirely removed.
The RFU had hoped that for the Scotland game about 20,000 people will come to Twickenham, but the union says it has taken into account the financial harm that would be incurred if England’s Six Nations games were played behind closed doors and next month is resigned to doing so. A RFU spokesman said, “We are sticking to the games, monitoring the situation with all parties and continuing to plan in line with current guidelines,”
The rise in 19 cases of Covid across the UK and on the continent has already influenced the fixture list of club rugby, with four Premiership matches and a host of European fixtures cancelled last month. However, the Six Nations are hopeful that competing federations’ biosecurity bubbles will help prevent matches from being cancelled, whereas professional sports teams have travel restriction exemptions.
As for the Lions’ tour, in the coming weeks, a decision is awaited, with discussions continuing if necessary into February.
If the Six Nations were to be moved to the July-August timeframe, the decision would have to be taken much earlier in a practical way. The most likely choice remains to delay the Lions tour, but even that is difficult considering the busy international calendar and the fact that the tour will take place a year before the 2023 World Cup, which would hardly please the home nations of Eddie Jones and the other head coaches.
Meanwhile, after recently making his Scotland debut by qualifying as a regular, Duhan van der Merwe has signed for Worcester next season. After completing his three years in Scotland with Edinburgh, Van der Merwe made his Test match debut in October, but has opted for the lucrative switch to play alongside fellow South African Alan Solomons.