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Premiership Rugby announced a two-week break on Monday night in a move that risks the anger of several directors of rugby who wanted to play rearranged league fixtures instead and threatens to disrupt Eddie Jones’s Six Nations plans.
Following confirmation that both European club competitions have been suspended due to fears over the new Covid-19 variant, PRL revealed their decision despite calls from Bristol, Exeter and Wasps for Premiership fixtures to fill the void.Organisers working to convince French that Six Nations can go ahead safely Read more
BT Sport, meanwhile, was facing a huge gap in its schedule after the European fixtures were cancelled, but rescheduling the Premiership would have filled a significant chunk of it. With five cancellations in the past 18 fixtures, however, it is believed not all clubs were as eager as others to bring forward league matches.
In England’s case, it means Jones will not get to cast his eye over any Premiership players before he names his Six Nations squad this month, though doubts remain over the tournament going ahead as planned. If it does, there is also the danger some players will be undercooked, given they had to have two weeks off since the end of the Autumn Nations Cup last month.
The hope is that Premiership matches will continue in full at the end of the month, but one of the main arguments for bringing fixtures forward was that clubs would have their England internationals available before the Six Nations begins.
“The welfare of everyone involved in Premiership Rugby is crucial to us and this break in the season gives us the chance to hand some much-needed rest to our hard-working players, management, staff and match officials,” said PRL’s chief executive, Darren Childs.
The decision to postpone the next two rounds of the European club competitions was inevitable when the French government advised the Top 14 clubs against taking part in cross-border fixtures on Saturday. The French sports ministry officially directed the clubs to act on Monday, leaving the competitions organisers, EPCR, with “no choice” but to announce the tournaments had been temporarily suspended.
That, in turn, raises doubts over the Six Nations with leading European officials questioning whether cross-border international matches should go ahead if club fixtures cannot.2021: a year of hope or chaos for the biggest events in world sport? Read more
The French federation president, Bernard Laporte, said on Sunday the Six Nations will go ahead as planned – France named their preliminary squad on Monday night – but talks between the organisers and the French government will continue on Tuesday.
Organisers point to their enhanced Covid-19 protocols – understood to include extra testing compared to the autumn internationals – but to demonstrate how precarious the tournament is, a scientific adviser to the French government on Monday called for a border closure with the UK and Ireland to be considered.
What the future holds for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup this season is also uncertain. Bringing forward two rounds of Premiership fixtures would have freed up space for the remaining European pool stage matches to be completed in the spring, but that is no longer possible. There is, however, a feeling unilateral talks over how the club and international seasons – including the British & Irish Lions tour – should be arranged are warranted rather than simply the European competitions feel the pinch.The Breakdown: sign up and get our weekly rugby union email.
The EPCR said: “While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, and prioritising the health and welfare of players and club staff, EPCR, in conjunction with its shareholder leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to resume and complete the tournaments as soon as practicable.”