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Premiership club boss backs radical 'one host' Six Nations idea

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter has outlined that staging the upcoming Six Nations in one country to ensure that spectators could attend the matches could be far more preferable than the deflating prospect of the games going ahead behind closed doors – as happened in the 2021 championship. The half-dozen Six Nations unions took a massive financial hit by going ahead with the tournament last year as scheduled.

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No fans were present at the 15 games in a competition won by Wales and while the outlook greatly improved after that with the recent Autumn Nations Cup matches hosting capacity crowds at places such as Twickenham, Murrayfield, the Principality, Aviva Stadium and Stade de France, fresh pandemic restrictions have led to concerns that the upcoming 2022 Six Nations will be severely affected by crowd attendance and travel red tape. 

Crowd capacity at live sports events in France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales has been severely cut in recent weeks, with the latter two countries having to essentially close their doors completely to spectators at club matches (the limit is 500 in Scotland, 0 in Wales). It has sparked fears regarding the stadium capacities for Six Nations matches in February and March. 

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There have already been reports that the WRU are checking out the possibility of staging its home matches in England as there have been no restrictions in that country regarding attendances at live sports events and it has now generated speculation that the Six Nations could potentially mirror the Rugby Championship and have the tournament hosted in a single country, namely England. 

The 2020 Tri-Nations was staged in Australia in front of spectators as was the majority of the 2021 Rugby Championship and the idea that England might potentially host all 15 games in the 2022 Six Nations received the support on Wednesday of Rob Baxter, the boss of the Exeter Chiefs who will likely be in the running to succeed Eddie Jones as England coach following the 2023 World Cup. 

In contrast to the restrictions affecting rugby in neighbouring countries, Exeter just last weekend played host to a record Sandy Park attendance and with stadiums in England set to remain open to full capacity and not be subjected to crowd restrictions, Baxter reckoned the idea that England could stage the entire Six Nations would be far better than the prospect of matches going ahead elsewhere behind closed doors or being postponed.  

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“The broader view would be that it should be played across the countries because that is very much the rugby view but if they just want to cancel the tournament (or play it behind closed doors), it will mean that income across all the home unions will be severely disrupted and that will have a knock-on effect greater than the professional game… the repercussions will be greater than that. 

“It isn’t for me to decide where a tournament should happen. It should be a broader discussion but I would think with the problem we have had with Covid recently, the unions are stretched on income and revenue already. With every sporting body, revenue is the biggest thing that has been damaged so anything that can keep revenue online has got to be preferable to binning things for a season. It has got to be. We have all got to find a way to keep going and keep revenue coming in, the same in any business you have got to explore those options.

“From a rugby perspective, the whole beauty of the Six Nations has been that change of environment, that change of potential weather conditions, that change in the whole situation is what has been fantastic about the Six Nations historically. It’s interesting, isn’t it? The game that comes to mind the most for various reasons, especially for me as an Englishman, is England going really well in the tournament and then being derailed at the last by going to play Scotland or Wales or Ireland.

“Those are the great challenges, that is what makes the Six Nations a great competition to win. You see French teams, one week they can beat anybody in the world in Paris and then the next week it doesn’t go quite so well in Cardiff. Those are the things that you see and that is the beauty of the tournament. That is from a rugby perspective which is what I am sure we all want to see happen. 

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“That said, we can’t all sit here and pretend the world is in an ideal place at the moment and the reality is that if a tournament can go ahead with crowds that financially will help all the unions carry on and thrive and gain enough money to carry on their rugby programmes. 

“You need to remember for the national bodies their responsibility for the game goes beyond professional sport, they go down right to grassroots rugby, so if playing the tournament provides a level of income that cancelling it or no crowds or however you want to look at it would break, then you look at the next-best scenario. If the next best scenario is to play it in one country but you can have sell-out crowds and you can raise some revenue and you can keep that income going through all the bodies, then that has got to be better than cancelling it.”

Before the Six Nations is due to start, the Champions Cup is supposed to complete its pool schedule but that is in jeopardy due to the red tape introduced pre-Christmas by the French government and resulted in the postponement of numerous round two games.  

Asked if the one-country host idea might be a way for the EPCR to complete its 2021/22 tournament, Baxter added: “Because of those travel regulations, because of the spread of the tournament, would it be possible? I don’t know. With the Six Nations, you could in theory create a bubble in one country and the tournament gets done in one block with no further travel. I don’t think you can see the (European) tournament out without that travel in between.”      

 

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