AN international window between 24th October and 5th December of this year has been recommended by World Rugby’s Executive Committee, which will allow teams to play six matches over a seven week period, with the aim of “optimising recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels”.
The proposal will see Scotland complete their 2020 Six Nations campaign with their final match against Wales at a venue yet to be decided (but definitely not at the Principality Stadium which has been ruled out of action for the remainder of the year after being deployed as an emergency hospital), then play whatever other matches can be organised around the travel and social distancing restrictions which are in place at that time.
With New Zealand and Argentina, two of the three countries Scotland were supposed to face this Autumn, unlikely to travel, several alternative solutions to restarting the lucrative international game have been suggested, including a ‘festival of rugby’ tournament based in London involving the Six Nations sides plus Japan and Fiji.
However, Murrayfield has remained tight-lipped on these discussions, and everything depends on the say so of the Scottish Government, who have been far more cautious about easing lockdown restrictions than Westminster.
“Seeking to reconcile the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare, temporary [international] windows have been determined following extensive and productive consultation between World Rugby, international competitions, national unions, their professional club competitions and International Rugby Players,” said a statement issued by the global governing body of the sport.
“In the north, this window will accommodate the postponed men’s and women’s Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on 7 November and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from 14th November through to 5 December.
“With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact international travel and borders across southern hemisphere unions, on an exceptional basis The Rugby Championship 2020 will be hosted in full in a single country over a reduced six-week period between 7 November and 12 December. Special measures will be implemented to deal with any government-required quarantine period prior to the start of the competition.”
“The rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September.
“The recommendation to temporarily change the Regulation 9 windows will be tabled at a virtual meeting of the World Rugby Council on 30 July. Subject to approval, the full schedule of matches will be announced by the respective union and international competition owners in due course.
“The current Regulation 9 windows will return to normal after 13 December.”
A statement from the Welsh Rugby Union earlier today [Wednesday] gave an illustration of how problematic discussions are over hosting these events in different UK jurisdictions, which have different approaches to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic threat.
“If restrictions mean that we are playing behind closed doors those [Autumn] games are likely to be staged in Wales and we are exploring a range of options,” said the statement. “If the games can be staged with crowds in some form those games are likely to be in and around London and, again, we are exploring a range of options. The most difficult scenario will be if games are allowed with crowds in England but not in Wales. There are clearly a range of risks here not least Welsh fans leaving Wales to attend a game and then returning. Clearly this risk also occurs for away games. We very much hope that by the autumn, restrictions whatever they be in relation to sports events, are aligned across the UK.”