Gerry Thornley says open the turnstiles; Champions Cup needs another revamp

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Andy Murray went to a fifth set against Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in his Australian Open first round match. Photograph: William West/Getty/AFP

Andy Murray went to a fifth set against Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in his Australian Open first round match. Photograph: William West/Getty/AFP

The 2022 Six Nations Championship is just over two weeks away, but Ireland supporters still don’t know if they will be able to attend their side’s opening fixture at home against Wales on Saturday February 5th. As it stands, Irish sporting events are still limited to 5,000 spectators or 50 per cent of capacity - whichever is lower. Nphet is expected to meet on Thursday to discuss an easing in Covid-19 restrictions - but as Gerry Thornley argues this morning, a gradual increase in capacity would still leave Ireland well behind other nations, as well as leaving a considerable hole in IRFU pockets. He writes: “Most probably France, as well as England, Scotland and Wales, will give approval for capacity crowds in time for the Six Nations. Aside from enabling Ireland to compete on a level playing field and the IRFU to generate around €15 million in gate receipts, as proven by that memorable All Blacks game it would be a huge morale boost for a sizeable chunk of the sports-following Irish public.”

In his column this morning Owen Doyle has reflected on the performances of the provinces in the Champions Cup last weekend, and he is the latest to suggest the tournament’s format needs to be changed again - something highlighted by Leinster’s 89-7 drubbing of a patched-up Montpellier side. He writes: “The previous pool stages were generally full of excitement with interest maintained for far longer, and the format was logical, easy to follow. Continued interest was also encouraged by the fact that where a team finished contributed to their European seeding the following season; now it only matters where a team finishes in its own domestic league. The organisers, EPCR, who have lost any sense of identity by heading off to Switzerland, must surely have a long, hard look.”

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