The Rugby Football Union is expecting England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland to go ahead next month behind closed doors despite sharply rising numbers of Covid-19 with both governments announcing lockdowns on Monday.
Twickenham is due to stage the Calcutta Cup on 6 February and both the RFU and the Six Nations are planning for the championship to take place as per its current schedule despite suggestions it could move to summer if the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa does not take place.
The prospect of the Lions tour going ahead this summer appeared less likely on Monday when the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he was “very worried” about the South African variant of Covid-19 taking hold in the UK. But it is believed that, while moving the Six Nations to a time when supporters are more likely to be able to attend matches has not been entirely ruled out, it has not been formally discussed by the unions.
The RFU had hoped for around 20,000 fans to be allowed into Twickenham for the Scotland match but the union says it has budgeted for the financial hit of playing England’s Six Nations fixtures behind closed doors and is resigned to doing so next month. “We are committed to the fixtures, monitoring the situation with all parties and planning continues aligned with current guidelines,” an RFU spokesperson said.
The surge in Covid-19 cases across the UK and the continent has already afected the club rugby schedule with four Premiership matches and a host of European fixtures cancelled in the past month. The Six Nations are optimistic, however, that the competing unions’ biosecure bubbles will help to avoid the need for matches to be called off while elite sports teams have exemptions from travel restrictions.
As far as the Lions tour is concerned, a decision is expected in the coming weeks with discussions continuing into February if required. If the Six Nations is to shift to the July‑August window, realistically that decision would need to be made much sooner. Postponing the Lions tour remains the most likely contingency option but even that is fraught with difficulty given the crowded international calendar and the fact it would take place just over a year before the 2023 World Cup, which would hardly please Eddie Jones and the other home nations’ head coaches.
Meanwhile Duhan van der Merwe has signed for Worcester next season, having only recently made his Scotland debut, qualifying on residency. Van der Merwe made his Test debut in October, having completed his three years in Scotland with Edinburgh, but has decided to make the lucrative move to team up with fellow South African Alan Solomons.