Source: INPHO

Whither the Six Nations? Changes may be under way

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The questions keep tumbling out.  Answers are harder to spot.

Is the Six Nations 2020 version all over? If not, when could it possibly take place? How long would it take international rugby players to regain their former fitness levels? A cautious answer would be several weeks. Once more the professionals amongst them would have the advantage.

Because Covid-19 affected individual countries in sequence, not all at once, the number of unplayed matches varies from one to three. Scotland and Italy would have to fit in a major programme of tests. How easy would that be for amateurs?

It’s perfectly possible that the earliest dates for renewed combat would come very close to the start of next season. Is the best answer simply to call this year’s championship off? When it comes to human contact (aka social distancing), rugby stands at the back of the queue for rebirth.

Changes under way?

The 6N committee is actively considering a change to the basic structures of the women’s competition. One option is to move it away from its traditional February-March slot. That will find favour with many parties involved. But moved where? The implication is that they want to leave the worst weather behind. Memories are still numbed by Storm Ciara which brought wind, rain, sleet and snow to Round 2.

Any move would have fit in with the global calendar, as we now know it. It will be a monumental task reorganizing all men’s and women’s competitions worldwide over a 12-month period to everyone’s satisfaction. Any change to the women’s 6N would require adjusting national programmes. For example, in England the Tyrrells campaign would need to be altered. The start of the 6N means a break from regular rugby for everyone not concerned in it.

When will it acquire a sponsor? To most enthusiasts it looks like a gold-plated winner, but not even Guinness have shown an interest in adding their name to it, despite their current half-in, half-out approach.

If this year’s competition is not to be completed, will they offer up the new Player of the Tournament award they announced last year? That would be a step in the right direction, though a long way from providing prize money – the biggest and most galling discrepancy between the men’s and women’s versions.

Underlying these problems is the direst of all, an empty kitty. English rugby depends up to 85% on takings at Twickenham’s home matches. That is why the RFU is so keen to fill the autumn with tests against top incoming nations. Every alternate year it suffers when England are granted only two home matches in the men’s 6 Nations. Now that Covid-19 has shut down operations all over the land, the RFU has offered £80m to its member clubs to help them survive a period when they are suffering zero income.

How much money will be left over for the women? The Tyrrells is a major recipient of RFU funding. The Red Roses’ contracts are another vital element.

The same old six?

It’s hardly worth raising the question of promotion-relegation again. You don’t get the impression the 6N committee is radical enough to contemplate such revolutionary talk. If it is, we might yet see either Spain or Canada receiving a phone-call. From the playing point of view Canada’s case is stronger. They sit a proud third in world rankings these days. Geography works against the idea. Though the Maple Leafs and the Red Roses have toured each other’s countries many times, it’s a more daunting prospect for the less affluent 6N nations to undertake yearly trips to Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton. And Rugby Canada has to watch its purse-strings carefully.

Spain’s case is more familiar. They were treated most unfairly when they were ousted in Italy’s favour thirteen years ago.

An end-of-season extravaganza?

Placing the Six Nations at the end of the season has its charms. It could be played in the best weather (pace Pau’s 27º on February 2!); it would provide a natural climax to each nation’s programme. This arrangement would mean one interruption fewer each season. Only the autumn internationals, Christmas and the New Year would bring a pause. Who said rugby and mud should go hand in hand?