An unintended consequence of the Irish Government's mandatory hotel quarantine system could yet ruin the 2021 women's Six Nations.
Should Italy beat Scotland on Saturday and Ireland lose to France – neither result would be a surprise – then Adam Griggs’s players and management will have to isolate in a Dublin hotel, at an approximate cost of €60,000 to the IRFU, on their return from playing in Parma on April 24th.
The IRFU are in discussions with the Department of Health and the Department of Sport to figure a way around a scenario that forces their amateur internationals to seek additional time off work.
As it stands, the Government would not allow the players and coaches to return home, or leave a quarantine hotel, for at least 10 days.
"It would be incredibly tough," said former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan. "Some girls might have to take annual leave depending on the profession they are in.
“If they are nurses and teachers, whether the departments will grant them that extra leave which they do for international competition, it would be a huge ask.
“I know Lindsay Peat is the only mother in the squad but that would be another huge ask for her to be away from her son for an extra 10 days.
“If they were given the option of playing or not with the 10-day quarantine I think a huge majority would push to do as much as they could to play the game because that is what they have been training for the last 20 camps.
“But it should not come down to that. I know public health is the most important thing, I’m not taking away from that, but if they are in a bubble and they are being tested, before they go and before they come back, maybe put them in for a night or two and test them again. I’m sure there are options around it.”
Coghlan was talking at the launch of the Guinness ‘never settle’ campaign with a tagline that hopes to make “rugby a more inclusive and accessible game for everyone regardless of gender, race or sexuality”.
“It is a huge financial burden as well,” Coghlan added.
The Irish Times has confirmed that the cost for hotel quarantining athletes returning from international competition in certain countries – like France and Italy – will have to be covered by the national governing body.
"We have clarity about what we need to do as a player group," said Sene Naoupu, the Ireland vice-captain. "I suppose it comes back to our quality of operations and internal administration within Irish rugby that they are looking after all that for us, so all we do as players is prepare and perform on the day.
“We want to play rugby,” Naoupu continued. “We want to perform extremely well in this championship for a number of very important reasons at a time when it is a blessing to be playing international rugby. Because of that we have been extremely vigilant. We do have to manage Covid but it is not the focus.”
The women’s Six Nations has brought the focus squarely on how Irish rugby intends to make the leap from amateur to professionalism, to ensure they remain competitive with France, England, New Zealand and other countries that are starting to contract their female 15s players.
“It is going to be tough,” said Coghlan, who led Ireland to a World Cup semi-final in 2014 after a famous victory over the Black Ferns. “The England under-20s squad are training at the moment with 46 players and we don’t even have an under-20s squad.
“So, they have this cohort of players who are ready to step up to international standard and we don’t have that.
“We are very much reliant on the current crop and then adding a couple of players that might come through in the years to come. It is about making sure this team is as fully functional as possible, but the other countries are going to forge ahead.
“For one, they are professional and two, they have the structures underneath them both in England and in France.
“You know, New Zealand in 2014 didn’t do a huge amount with their national team. They had won one World Cup so they thought they were on an international gravy train. They really took a look at themselves after we beat them, they restructured themselves and now they have pro contracts for their players and a really strong provincial [competition] with a look to put teams into Super Rugby.
“We don’t have that. I do not believe that just professionalism is going to make a difference with this team. That is really short-term thinking. It will improve the life of the girls in the sense they don’t have to get up the next day for work, and they can focus on recovery, but to get those big improvements we need to look at the structural framework that we currently have in Ireland and look to push it on.
“It is not going to be quick and it is not going to be cheap.”
Coghlan understands that the Ireland’s senior men’s team fuels rugby’s financial engine but, like so many people who have dedicated years of their lives to growing the women’s game, she paints a frustrated picture when it comes to the rate of progress.
“I really don’t like talking about making the women’s team professional when there are people losing their jobs in the IRFU, but this conversation probably should have happened pre-Covid and it certainly has to happen in the near future.
"The English players are on about £30k (€35,000) max and that would be the likes of Emily Scarratt who is a superstar in her own right, so it is not a huge amount.
“If you look at the men’s game when it went professional, it was selling out 50,000 seater stadiums so they had that revenue even as an amateur team. The women are only selling out Donnybrook so that is a huge thing as well – getting the fans engaged to buy tickets and go to games.
“The commercial side of it is also very important; getting TV rights and Guinness coming in as official partner of the Six Nations is brilliant.
“I don’t know whether some of the girls will go pro; if you are on a salary and asked to drop down to €30,000, I suppose it depends if you have a mortgage. It is easy to say ‘we should turn pro’ but you could lose a lot of your squad as well.
“Now, if I was given the option when I was playing, I definitely would have done it but people are in different situations with family and career.”
It is not going to be quick and it is not going to be cheap.