There’s some irony about the first game of the 2021 being postponed as a result of an outbreak in France’s camp. It was, after all, the French government that was most strident about the various health protocols to allow the championship to take place.
The Six Nations jumped through a few hoops before the French authorities, concerned about the UK variant of Covid-19, could give their approval for L’Equipe de France to play.
The French sports minister is apparently incandescent about the outbreak and is demanding an explanation, according to French-based freelance James Harrington.
Scots are blameless in this affair and should not be disadvantaged
It was unfortunate for France that the game might be played on Sunday with key figures like Charles Ollivon and Antoine Dupont absent.
It would be utterly unacceptable for a rescheduled date to place that disadvantage on Scotland, who are blameless in this entire affair.
I’m not one of those advocating a statutory 28-0 victory be awarded to Scotland. That was just about tolerable in the ad-hoc Autumn Nations Cup. But that was a vehicle for grabbing broadcasting rights money when Unions had no other prospect of income.
This is the Six Nations. The games should be played with the best available XVs selected. That means France with Dupont, Ollivon and Dulin and it means Scotland with all their English-based players.
Scotland will not have their best players if the game is played outwith World Rugby’s Regulation 9 international windows. There will be some who are not released by Gallagher Premiership clubs, and even Finn Russell from his French club Racing 92.
That’s entirely their right, they pay the considerable wages it took to prise those players from Scotland. They have their own sponsors and broadcasters to please.
Regulation 9 shouldn’t be tampered with
World Rugby has Regulation 9 in place to be fair to the clubs while accepting the pre-eminence of the international game. It doesn’t suit to play around with it even in exceptional circumstances.
So when do we play the game? Not on the midweek between the last two games of this scheduled Six Nations. Player welfare has taken a hammering during the pandemic and that’s a step too far.
The next Regulation 9 window is the scheduled first week of the Lions’ Tour to South Africa. It seems certain that will not be played in South Africa, so there may be an opening.
It’s not ideal, a Six Nations game played three and a half months after the championship was supposed to finish. France might restore some home advantage with a crowd being possible within the Stade de France by then.
But really, no solution here is without fault. This one leaves the best chance of all the best players of each nation playing. That has to be the right one.