Women's Six Nations set to be postponed due to Covid-19
Women's Six Nations could pushed back until April due to coronavirus crisis; French sports ministry wants games against British clubs in Champions and Challenge Cups postponed; Six Nations organisers to meet this week
Last Updated: 11/01/21 11:09am
The Women's Six Nations is set to be postponed as a result of the escalating coronavirus crisis at a time when uncertainty continues to hover over the men's event.
Tournament organisers have been forced to concede defeat in attempts to stage the competition in its traditional February and March window, with April and May now pencilled in as an alternative.
It means England will be denied the chance to mount their title defence until later in the year as the challenges over holding it alongside the men's Six Nations, which is due to start on February 6, prove insurmountable.
Only the champions are fully professional, with France semi-professional and the remaining sides mostly amateur, creating difficulties over testing and bubbles at a time when lockdowns are in place across Europe.
A schedule had yet to be published and the announcement is expected this week.
There is still hope that the men's competition will take place as planned, despite France facing a possible travel ban from their government.
Organisers are attempting to convince French authorities that it can be played safely, even allowing for the growing number of Covid-19 cases caused by the new strain first discovered in Kent.
Talks between the Six Nations, unions and French government will be ongoing throughout the week.
It comes as the fate of the European Champions and Challenge Cups hangs in the balance after the Top 14 teams were "invited" by Paris to cease cross-border competition.
Next weekend begins the first of the pool stage's final two rounds and European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) will discover early this week what course of action France's clubs will take.
If they withdraw, the EPCR is likely to temporarily suspend the competitions.
"We are working hard to hold the tournament as scheduled in each country, with Covid protocols further reinforced from the October to November period that saw the successful conclusion of the Six Nations 2020 and the Autumn Nations Cup," a Six Nations spokesperson said.
French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte is confident that the championship will go ahead as scheduled, using the blueprint of the recent Autumn Nations Cup.
"It's a puzzle, but I think we shouldn't be alarmed about the Six Nations tournament," Laporte told French radio station RMC.
"The tournament will be played with a health protocol decided by the government. Everything went well in the autumn and it will be the same for the upcoming Six Nations tournament. I'm not that worried."
Baxter, Lam want Premiership games brought forward
Rob Baxter and Pat Lam believe Premiership games should be moved forward if necessary to free up fixture schedule space and help keep this season's Champions Cup on track.
EPCR will discover early this week what course of action France's clubs will take. If they withdraw, the EPCR is likely to temporarily suspend the competitions.
The Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup competitions are both due to resume on Friday, but if they do not, then Baxter and Lam want domestic fixtures taking their place.
That would potentially create room for the pool matches in both European tournaments to be completed later this season on two current Premiership weekends.
"I would like to think they will move positively and quickly and bring Premiership games forward," said Baxter, Exeter's director of rugby.
"If we are going to play European games, we've got to create space somewhere. The only way to do that is to shift Premiership games."
Reigning European champions Exeter face a must-win home match against Toulouse on Saturday if they are to keep alive hopes of reaching the Champions Cup knockout stage.
Lam's Bristol - due to host Connacht on Sunday - are in contention to progress from their pool.
"Everything is out there saying there is a strong chance (of postponement)," Bristol rugby director Lam said.
"What we would be very keen to say is that it is a massive opportunity for the Premiership as a competition to bring everything forward.
"We are all prepared to play. If they are going to postpone it, they are going to have to find two weekends.
"What we have learnt from last season is it is a massive toll to get the players to play midweek games, and we don't want to go down there again.
"If we play now and bring it forward, it is going to open up those weeks (later in the season). It is a massive opportunity for the Premiership to say 'let's go'."