Women’s Six Nations in doubt as Covid-19 cases rise

English Premiership avoids more cancellations despite 16 more positive tests

England captain Emily Scarratt celebrates with the Six Nations trophy last year. Photograph: Inpho

England captain Emily Scarratt celebrates with the Six Nations trophy last year. Photograph: Inpho

 

The Women’s Six Nations is in doubt because of the rising number of Covid-19 infections, but the English Premiership has avoided more cancellations this weekend despite 16 more players testing positive.

No date has been set for the start of this year’s Women’s Six Nations, in which most of the players, apart from England’s, are amateur or semi-professional. The men’s tournament kicks off on February 6th and the women’s World Cup is due to start in September with Ireland, Scotland and Italy yet to qualify.

“I do have concerns about how well we are going to get through this period,” the English Rugby Football Union’s head of women’s performance, Nicky Ponsford, told the BBC. “I am relatively confident about how England are going to be able to deal with it, but there are different challenges in different unions.”

France are semi-professional while the players in the other four nations are amateur, which creates a number of logistical problems, starting with testing. It was decided before the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant and a sharp increase in the number of infections, not to change the start date from next month even though only England fulfilled all their fixtures last year.

“We will be looking over the next 10 days to see if we can get through the entire Six Nations or as much of it as we can,” Ponsford said. “It was the right thing at the time to leave the tournament where it was, but the world has changed again. It is becoming more challenging and there is a lot to put in the mix.”

The sharp rise in the number of infections is shown in the Premiership’s weekly testing round this season. The first four yielded 13 positives - eight players and five members of staff - but the number in the next four jumped to 82, including 64 players. Five matches were cancelled as a consequence, including Saturday’s east Midlands derby between Northampton and Leicester.

London Irish’s match at Harlequins on Sunday will go ahead after the club’s training ground was closed last week, and the match against Northampton called off, following a number of positive tests. It has led to criticism of the policy of awarding four points to the side that did not cause the game to be cancelled and two to the other.

“I do not think it is appropriate when people are quite ill with the virus to be deflating a system that was agreed by everyone before the season started,” said Declan Kidney, the London Irish director of rugby. “It could have an effect from a rugby point of view, but from a health and human perspective the main thing is to get rid of the virus. Some of our players have been hit hard by it. We were ready to play last week but had a civic duty not to.”

World Rugby’s governance review, led by the former sports minister Hugh Robertson, has made a number of recommendations that have been adopted on an interim basis before a meeting in May. They include a target of at least 40 per cent female representation on committees, player representation throughout the structure, including on the executive committee, and the introduction of a fit and proper person’s test for representatives.

David Young, who left Wasps last February, has been appointed the interim director of rugby by Cardiff Blues after the departure this week of the Australian John Mulvihill “for personal reasons”. - Guardian

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