RFU chief Bill Sweeney has confirmed that a double Six Nations competition – two regular 15-match campaigns amalgamated into one 30-match tournament starting in the autumn – is on the table due to travel problems threatening the planned matches featuring the likes of England against the touring southern hemisphere countries.
Italian rugby federation president Alfredo Gavazzi, who has also been involved in the discussions, confirmed this week: “One of the solutions could be to have a home and away Six Nations, but that’s one of the solutions. It’s not ‘the solution’ because the main solution is that of maintaining the autumn Tests for all the countries from the Six Nations.”
Sweeney is at the heart of the talks as one of three representatives of the northern hemisphere who hold regular virtual meetings with three officials from the southern hemisphere unions. They meet “four or five times a week” as part of the attempt to deliver a global season.
While Sweeney admitted at a virtual media conference that “nothing has been achieved yet”, he insisted there were constructive talks towards establishing up to three different scenarios – including an extended Six Nations – to deal with the October/November Test schedule that is so crucial to the finances of the European nations, including England.
Sweeney said: “The preference is that the original programme will go ahead and we have four (England) Tests scheduled with New Zealand, Australia, Tonga and Argentina. The south would prefer for that to go ahead but it will be dictated by international travel restrictions.
“Both of us are developing our own back-up contingency plans for that and there are two or three different options we could go with around that autumn window. Who it is against we cannot give you 100 per cent certainty.
“Home and away Six Nations matches is one of the three options – you play a Six Nations tournament in that autumn window and you combine that with the fixtures for the next year and for the first time you would have a home and away tournament. It’s possible and everyone has pros and cons, but it is one of the options being evaluated.”
Meanwhile, Northampton chairman John White has told his club’s members that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened the case for ring-fencing the Gallagher Premiership.
He said: “We have to forfeit the relegation perhaps to maintain and sustain rugby clubs such as our own and others and it will come, and it should come sooner rather than later so we can settle everything down post-pandemic.”
Sweeney, though, was adamant that this controversial move was not about to happen despite the financial troubles facing all of the Premiership clubs, particularly Saracens who have been relegated to the Championships for breaching salary cap regulations.
“It’s a very big and complex topic and there is a process to be followed. It’s a subject that has been around for a long time. The RFU council would have to be involved in any discussion on that front so it’s something we are very conscious of. I’m sure it will continue to be discussed. I wouldn’t say it something that is immediately going to happen in a matter of weeks.”
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