The Six Nations are in the process of finalising contingency plans for an emergency tournament to be played in October and November.
The Unions involved are to hold talks this week aimed at approving a proposal for a complete 15-match championship to be staged over an eight-week autumn block with the same fixtures as this season. Such an unprecedented project has the potential to generate more than £100m in ticket sales.
As one powerbroker told The Rugby Paper: “Desperate times require desperate measures. And these are desperate times.’’
Provisional dates and fixtures are being drawn up amid growing concern that the Covid-19 pandemic will prevent New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina making their autumn tours of Europe, thereby wiping out all 20 Test matches scheduled for November.
In that event a second Six Nations will fill the vacuum but only if the Government sees fit to end social distancing, hence World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont’s reference to the ‘distinct possibility of no more rugby this year’.
The All Blacks are already assessing the damage of such a scenario and warning of players’ wages being reduced by 50 per cent.
They are booked to play England at Twickenham, Wales in Cardiff and Scotland at Murrayfield on successive weeks in November. The RFU say they stand to lose £50m from a blank autumn which explains the motivation to fill Twickenham with a second Six Nations.
“Some people will no doubt throw their hands up in the air and accuse us of devaluing the tournament but what do they expect us to do?’’ one senior official said.
“In such exceptional circumstances we would be failing in our duty to the game as a whole if we didn’t have a contingency plan.’’
Another proposal under discussion is for the Six Nations to rearrange their summer tours for October but only if the southern hemisphere countries are cleared to go ahead with the return matches in Britain, Ireland, France and Italy.
The whole issue is fraught with such uncertainty that the Six Nations have still to set a date for their ‘Super Saturday’ last round finale of matches called off five weeks ago: Italy v England, France v Ireland, Wales v Scotland. Another match, Ireland v Italy, remains unplayed.
If those matches are to be held, it raises the astonishing possibility of one Six Nations championship being completed in September, another one taking place in October and November and a third kicking off in the New Year.
It also raises the perennial question of player-release, a major issue for England and France which also affects Wales, Scotland and Italy. The Premiership and Top 14 will have every right to demand hefty compensation for further disruption to their fixture lists.
The global chaos has also affected the Six Nations’ bid to secure £100m-a-year for a new three-year television contract effective from the autumn. The coronavirus pandemic threatens to leave them without a match to sell.
Current schedule for 2020 autumn internationals:
November 7/8: France v Georgia, Ireland v Australia, Italy v South Africa, Wales v Fiji, Scotland v Argentina, England v New Zealand
November 14/15: France v Australia, Ireland v South Africa, Scotland v Japan, Wales v New Zealand, England v Argentina
November 21/22: France v South Africa, Ireland v Japan, England v Tonga, Scotland v New Zealand, Wales v Argentina
November 28: England v Australia