WORLD Rugby has approved plans to complete the 2020 Six Nations Championship in October, and to have an expanded Autumn International series. It has yet to announce officially that there will be an eight-nations tournament in the northern hemisphere in which Japan and Fiji are set to join the customary half-dozen countries, but confirmation of that is now just a matter of time, perhaps only awaiting the finalising of venues and kick-off dates before a full fixture list can be published.
The global governing body’s sanctioning of the Six Nations plans means that Scotland’s outstanding game against Wales, postponed as a result of the pandemic in March, can now go ahead at the end of October, probably at a London venue. That match will be preceded on the weekend of the 24th by a home game, with Georgia set to be confirmed as the opponents for Gregor Townsend’s side.
After that, presuming the Eight Nations goes ahead as planned, Scotland will have pool games against France, Italy and Japan, then finish off a hectic period with a play-off against the team that finishes in the same position as them in the other pool, which will include England, Fiji, Ireland and Wales.
World Rugby’s announcement of a radically revised autumn calendar is the first time it has been explicitly conceded that the original programme of Autumn Internationals will not take place. In Scotland’s case, Argentina, Japan and New Zealand were all set to visit Murrayfield on successive weekends in November. The Pumas and the All Blacks will be involved in the Rugby Championship along with Australia and South Africa instead, although it could still be that the Japanese game in the Eight Nations will be on the same date as the country’s originally planned fixture, Saturday 14 November.
There are four games in the men’s Six Nations yet to be completed, with Ireland and Italy having only fulfilled three of their five fixtures. In the women’s Championship, six games have still to be played – three involving Scotland. The statement from World Rugby this afternoon only nominates two weekends for the completion of both championships, but it is still anticipated that all remaining games will be played. One possibility for the Women’s Six Nations is that all outstanding matches are played as a mini-tournament at one or two venues relatively close to each other.
“An exciting programme of international matches is set to take place later this year after the World Rugby Council approved a temporary adjustment to Regulation 9 to accommodate the release of international players for revised 2020 windows,” the statement read. “The adjustment to the regulation has been approved as a temporary measure to mitigate the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on global rugby activities and provides a welcome boost for players, teams, fans, and broadcast and commercial partners.
“Approval follows extensive and productive dialogue between the sport’s major stakeholders, balancing the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare to determine a schedule that will optimise the immediate financial recovery and funding of the sport at all levels.
“The windows approved by the World Rugby Council for player release are:
- Temporary global player release window for 2020: 24 October – first weekend of December
- Temporary Rugby Championship window for 2020: 7 November – second weekend of December
“The temporary global window will accommodate the completion of the 2020 men’s and women’s Six Nations Championships on 24 and 31 October, a rest weekend on 7 November and four consecutive rounds of international matches.
“With Covid-19 restrictions continuing to impact transcontinental travel and entry requirements, on an exceptional basis The Rugby Championship 2020 will take place over a reduced six-week period between 7 November and the second week in December with Sanzaar having asked New Zealand to host. Special measures will need to be implemented to deal with any government-required isolation period prior to the start of the competition.
“The current Regulation 9 windows will return to normal after the conclusion of the temporary calendar. All parties, including unions, club competitions and players, remain committed to continued dialogue regarding the long-term harmonisation of the international calendar for the betterment of all.
“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 process also reflects the ambition to minimise impact on the EPCR and English Premiership finals matches.
“World Rugby is also liaising with emerging unions to explore where it can assist with a programme of fixtures where Covid-19 restrictions permit.”
It remains to be seen whether any supporters will be allowed into Murrayfield to watch the games against Georgia, Japan and France – or indeed the PRO14 double-header between Edinburgh and Glasgow at the end of August. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today that fans could be permitted to attend sports events from 14 September, but also said that that date would be subject to review.
Any initial return of supporters still appears likely to be on a test basis only, with a figure of 1,000 paying spectators having been discussed. The SRU has expressed an interest in using one of the derbies as a test event.
“We hope that sports stadia will be able to reopen from that day [14 September] for limited numbers of spectators, with physical distancing in place,” the First Minister said. “Some professional sports events may be arranged for spectators before then with Scottish Government agreement to test the safety of any new arrangements.”