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Welsh Government briefing delivers Six Nations body blow to WRU

By PA
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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Wales still face the prospect of playing their home matches in the Six Nations behind closed doors after First Minister Mark Drakeford announced current restrictions must remain in place. Uncertainty continues to hover over the viability of fans attending the clash with Scotland at the Principality Stadium on February 12, while France and Italy also visit Cardiff in March.

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Only crowds of 50 are allowed to attend outdoor events as the omicron variant of Covid continues to spread and Drakeford insisted there will be no lifting of safety measures for at least another two weeks. “We have to see the tide turn on the Omicron wave. We have to manage our way through the very difficult weeks that follow while numbers are still rising,” Drakeford told a Welsh Government briefing.

“There are ways in which we have learned over the pandemic to make major events organised in safer ways. It’s always been the case that the risks in major events are less at the event itself, particularly when those events are well run as certainly the autumn internationals were.

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“It is how people travel to the stadium, it is how people gather around the stadium, it is how people behave. Not at the game, but around the game. So there are further measures that could be adopted that would help to mitigate those risks.

“Of course, we would all far prefer to be in a position where the Six Nations could go ahead with people watching the game here in Wales. The issue that is under the microscope is whether we can do that safely. Whether the number of people falling ill with the virus is so high that adding further to that risk simply would not be a responsible thing to do.

“I know it’s really difficult when you’re organising a major event and you’re under the pressure of time, but we won’t know that for the next couple of weeks. But we will be watching that very carefully and as I said, as soon as we can make a decision, we will make a decision. But the decision will be made on the grounds of public safety and public health safety. In the end, that has to be the top consideration for the Government.”

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The Welsh Rugby Union is exploring the option of staging the Wales home games in England in a bid to generate an income from the Six Nations should the shut-out of meaningful crowds continue. The integrity of the tournament is threatened with significant restrictions in place in Scotland, Ireland and France, while England and Italy are able to host capacity crowds in one of the sport’s most partisan events.

“I make no criticism of the WRU for exploring all the options that are available to them,” Drakeford said. “They are a business and as a responsible business, it seems to me that they are bound to look at all the different possibilities that are there in front of them.

“Whether they will choose to go ahead and play games elsewhere with the undoubted risks that would bring, were we to be still in the eye of the storm of coronavirus, I think is a very debatable question. But whether I have any problem with them looking at the options that they have available to them, no I don’t.”

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