An expanded Autumn International season in Europe which will allow the completion of the 2020 Six Nations and a one-off “Eight Nations” has been approved by governing body World Rugby, paving the way to six successive weekends of international rugby in October and November as the game emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.
Scotland’s outstanding Six Nations game away to Wales, postponed due to the developing pandemic in March, will now take place on October 31, with the venue likely to be in London. Cardiff’s Principality Stadium has been converted to an emergency hospital, and therefore the game will be taken to Twickenham or possibly the Tottenham Stadium.
It’s believed that the Scots will confirm a match against Georgia at BT Murrayfield on October 24 as a warm-up game.
After a week’s lay-off Gregor Townsend’s side are then expected to take part in an eight-team competition involving the Six Nations plus Fiji and Japan. The Scots are understood to play home games against France and the Japanese, and an away game against Italy in their four-team pool.
They will then play the team in the corresponding finishing position from the other pool of England, Wales, Ireland and Fiji, with the game again likely to be at Murrayfield.
Whether fans will be permitted at any of these games is still unclear, although the hope is that a limited and distanced number will be allowed in for most of the games.
World Rugby’s approval was needed as outlying two weeks of this seven-week period are a one-off adjustment to Regulation 9, which determines when club teams must release players to the international game.
“The adjustment to the regulation has been approved as a temporary measure to mitigate the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on global rugby activities and provides a welcome boost for players, teams, fans, and broadcast and commercial partners,” read a statement from World Rugby.
“Approval follows extensive and productive dialogue between the sport’s major stakeholders, balancing the interests of the international game, the professional club game and player welfare to determine a schedule that will optimise the immediate financial recovery and funding of the sport at all levels.”
The extended windows will stretch from October 24 to the first weekend in December in Europe, and from November 7 to the second weekend of December in the Southern Hemipshere, where the intention is to play the Rugby Championship featuring New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina postponed from this summer but with all matches taking place in the one territory, likely to be New Zealand.
World Rugby stress that this arrangement is a one-off, although it added in the statement that “all parties, including unions, club competitions and players, remain committed to continued dialogue regarding the long-term harmonisation of the international calendar for the betterment of all.”
It’s known that leading clubs in England and France are vigorously opposed to some of mooted changes in the calendar, and World Rugby’s statement is at pains to stress “the ambition to minimise impact on the EPCR and English Premiership finals matches”, which are likely be completed in August and September.