Though all of us rugby fans hope fervently that the Six Nations can finish the course, we have to face facts… and the unknown. How far will Covid-19 go on spreading, how quickly, how lethal will it prove, how will each of us react to its consequences?
At present (Thursday 27 February) the matches between Ireland and Italy are off. That may mean that all future games involving Italy will fall too. Since it seems to be human contact that is to be shunned, we may not have seen the last match to be played behind closed doors. And rugby is above all a contact sport.
The Asian qualifiers for RWC 2021 have now been postponed until May. Let’s hope the world will be a safer place long before then.
The 6N has suffered disruption in the past, through human and non-human interventions.
In 1973 John Pullin, England’s captain, famously said at the after-match dinner in Dublin: ‘At least we turn up’. The violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland led other nations calling off their visits to Ireland. England did go…and lost. His words received loud applause.
Foot-and-mouth disease has also caused cry-offs in 2001.
The women’s version of the 6N will suffer fewer adverse effects than the men’s, since the latter has vast sums of prize-money to be awarded and rankings for the 2023 RWC to be refined. The paths of the six women’s teams towards next year’s RWC have already been finalized. – and there is not a penny of prize-money.
We can’t yet tell how severe this latest virus will prove to be, but we must expect all the rugby authorities to follow expert advice and react sensibly.
To my mind, it is unlikely many of the remaining fixtures will see the light of day. At the heart of the problem lies the question of human contact. Quite apart from the players of a contact sport, spectators gathering in large numbers are precisely what the experts are telling us to avoid.
Let’s hope the outcome proves to be far less dramatic.