Yet more Covid-19 postponements in rugby mean the 2021 Women’s Six Nations and Under 20s programs have been delayed.
Organizers still intend for the much-anticipated men’s Six Nations to be played as scheduled. Though, that would only be as so far as the conditions permitted play. Postponing the women’s Six Nations and Under 20s tournaments would minimize the risk, while still producing one of the most respected annual championships to go ahead. That is still to be seen, yet every effort must be made now, so fans can enjoy a little respite during the lockdowns and restrictions imposed.
The majority of women’s players from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Italy are amateur, creating issues around testing, travel, and player welfare. “A lot of work is being done on the planning of the Women’s Six Nations Championship factoring the updated and fast-evolving measures in each country,” said a Six Nations spokesperson. “We will communicate in due course.”
In 2020, three Women’s Six Nations fixtures were cancelled because of coronavirus. Pushing the schedule back to April or May will align with the vaccine introduction to each host country. And even though nothing can be guaranteed, the women will have to play a waiting game, before a final decision is made. But certainly, not what any nation planning to compete at a Rugby World Cup would have envisioned.
Organizers say they are “fiercely committed to the promotion and development of rugby at all levels, particularly the women’s game, where we see an exciting opportunity for growth”. True, however, that cannot come at the risk to players, stakeholders, or the future of either women’s or men’s representative rugby.
Less than ideal preparations for Women’s Six Nations teams
England and France will feel the hardest hit, as their high aspirations for the 2021 Rugby World Cup will be affected. Postponed, the sides can still play but, what to do until then?
Planning would have been done 24 months ago or more, so altering the physical fitness programs for players would be only one of many necessary. Like their Under 20 companions, everything has to be reworked, from club releases to personal commitments. Player’s families will be affected – even while they can now spend February and March among them, time gained now must be sacrificed once the Six Nations organizers have reached a conclusion that it is safe to play.
It is basically ‘take a knee sorry ladies’.
Meanwhile, more trouble awaits some unqualified nations. The World Cup starts in New Zealand on September 18, and there are still three places to be filled. There are six European countries trying to win places, with Spain, Russia, and the Netherlands still needing to complete the 2020 Rugby Europe Championship.
The winner of this will join Italy, Ireland, and Scotland in a European qualification tournament that was originally scheduled to take place in December 2020, but was postponed amid coronavirus concerns. The winner will get a place at the World Cup in Pool B, while the runner-up will have one last chance to qualify through the repechage.
Plus, the women must nervously wait on announcements from World Rugby. If the powers that be decide that the disruption from Covid-19 is too great; even with New Zealand seemingly being free of community transmission, it might be decided that RWC2021 is also postponed [like the Olympics were]. A tough wait for either professional or amateur. Tough for managers, teams, for the everyday rugby follower.
World Rugby is yet to announce plans for all the unscheduled games, however, moving so many predominately amateur teams across international borders will be complex. It is thought that using world rankings to award the final places will be a back-up plan if all the fixtures cannot be completed.
Under 20 men’s competition disrupted
This is going to affect the Under 20 player’s in different ways. A lot of them are in professional rugby clubs; either as first XV picks, or some in the development system or academy. If not professional, many will be committed to the sport. So for them, a delay only means they can focus on club competition.
Some benefit from the postponement of the Women’s Six Nations and Under 20s will be seen. The very elite can return to the domestic duties [excuse the pun]. To local and European competition, that is allowed to proceed safely. The men to the Premiership, PRO14, Top14 or other leagues like the Indigo Group Premiership. The women can participate in their competitions, like the Tyrrells Premier 15s, and other leagues. It will be a short term boost for those, as each group awaits the ultimate decision.
That call from Six Nations organizers, and the one from World Rugby will affect the here and now. It may be positive, or it might negatively affect the plans of both groups. But as the community has had to adjust, and ‘play it safe’ then so too should rugby.
At the time of publishing, the 2021 Six Nations is still scheduled to proceed.
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