After seven long months, the Six Nations Championship gets back underway this week in a very different world to the one which saw England take pole position back in March. While football, cricket, golf and other sports across the globe have found different ways to put on a show under Covid restrictions, we have yet to see rugby union host a major tournament post-coronavirus.
So how exactly will the Six Nations look for the remainder of the 2020 campaign? And what measures will be put in place to cater for fans who might want to watch games in social gatherings where permitted?
Ben Morel, CEO of the Six Nations, speaking on a panel at the CSM ‘How can rugby survive and thrive?’ webinar on Thursday, explained, “There’s definitely no rulebook on what we’ve faced and will have to face. That was the first difficulty and we have been developing that rulebook everyday since then.
“It seems like a century ago but we were one of the first events to be affected. Quick, tough decisions have had to be made in varying circumstances, with evolving guidance from the Government. In some weird shape or form, the Six Nations had a more comfortable situation with so few games to play. We were not cancelling, we were postponing.”
With that in mind, just how will the remainder of the Six Nations look and how is each country adapting?
Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, 24 October
Unsurprisingly, there will be no fans present inside the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, with the country at a level three countrywide restriction. While 200 people are being allowed into larger stadiums in the country, that number will be made up mainly of the players’ families. For smaller venues, there is a limit of 100 people in attendance, though it is understood the IRFU are pushing hard for rules to soften by the planned start of the 2021 Six Nations in February as, of course, the loss of revenue is harming sporting bodies across the sphere.
Wales v Scotland, Parc Y Scarlets, 31 October
The Dragons, who usually play at the 80,000-seater Principality Stadium, will instead host Scotland on 31 October at Parc y Scarlets, the home of Scarlets, a 14,780-seater venue in Llanelli. There has also been confirmation this week that the fixture will be able to go ahead despite the First Minister’s announcement of a ‘fire break’ in Wales which prohibits movement into the country.
Inside the venue, the lack of the usual cacophony of noise will be replicated in some senses, the Wales RFU has told The Sportsman. The WRFU will look to recreate the noise of the anthems for a normal fixture of this magnitude, to help the players adapt and also allow the watching fans to feel closer to a game-day atmosphere.
While the football grounds across the world returned in the summer with cardboard cutouts of supporters, for the Welsh, the message upon their first game back will be one of thanks to the NHS and key workers for their brilliant work during the pandemic. The now familiar sight of branding will adorn seats around the stadium.
With no spectators at all allowed, there will also be no friends or family of the teams present. However, in order to bring the game to the fans, broadcasters will be part of a limited media presence along with support staff for the two sides. Wales RFU will also provide their own content in the hope of delivering something different with various screening opportunities at the venue to include their loyal supporters stuck cheering on the boys from home.
Scotland, for their part, have said begun making plans for a new three-tier ticketing membership for next year and beyond but there are no official plans for fan drive-thrus or events on game day for the time being.
Italy v England, Stadio Olimpico, 31 October
Italy, the first of the Six Nations competitors to be hit by the first wave of Covid, are hoping not to be hit by new restrictions announced this week by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. They have, though, been hit by news that their scrum-half Stephen Varney is isolating after testing positive last week, which serves to underline that this is an ever-changing situation even with games set to return.
England will return to Twickenham on Sunday to face Barbarians in a warm-up fixture ahead of the trip to Rome.
When contacted by The Sportsman, the RFU said they are yet to announce plans for what will be going on inside the stadium on matchday but revealed, “England’s men’s and women’s players, as well as match officials, will be consulted and given a choice on how and if they wish to make gestures to help raise awareness for diversity and inclusion before the start of each future match.”
It has also been confirmed that Swing Low, Sweet Chariot will not be banned due to it’s long-held place in rugby history following a review of its origins. Belted out at the rugby since the mid-sixties, it has become a staple of the matchday experience and will bring something of a normal feeling to the fans watching on from afar.
France v Ireland, Stade de France, 31 October
In France, while they have allowed as many as 5,000 spectators into stadiums for some sporting events, only last week Paris and eight other major cities were placed on curfew between 9pm and 6am with businesses set to shut to halt a second wave. With such new restrictions, it is impossible to tell right now what precautions will be in place for France v Ireland at Stade de France in the nation’s capital for the game which is due to round out this year’s competition.
The hope remains that there will be 5,000 French fans in the national stadium for the clash, but in l’Hexagone as across the northern hemisphere, this is very much a fluid situation.
In the meantime it’s all systems go, at last. It’s a whole new world but we’ve adapted and now cannot wait to see our teams back on the field.