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RFU chief: Home-and-away Six Nations must be one-off

Bill Sweeney, RFU chief executive. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

An unprecedented home-and-away format for rugby unions Six Nations must be a one-off, should the format end up being approved, according to Bill Sweeney, the Rugby Football Union chief executive.

The format is one of various plans being considered by organisers for the 2021 tournament after the 2020 edition was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The plans could be put into place if Southern hemisphere teams are unable to fulfil their Autumn International fixtures with Northern hemisphere teams this November because of ongoing travel restrictions.

Sweeney was quoted by the Press Association as saying: “The Six Nations is a very special tournament. It’s regarded as one of the best, if not the best, tournaments in the world in terms of its stature, tradition, heritage and commercial value. You play around with that at your risk.

“On the other hand, there’s something quite attractive about, as a one-off, once-only because of this situation, having a home and away Six Nations.

“Nobody would be able to say there was a home-field advantage, it would be a level playing field. But I don’t think it would be a longer-term (solution).”

England is scheduled to play New Zealand, Argentina and Tonga across consecutive weekends this November, but Sweeney said he had discussed the contingency plans with a six-person working group working on revisions to the rugby calendar.

He told BBC Sport: “The preference from both the north and the south is that the original programme will go ahead. But there are two or three different options that feature more northern hemisphere competition around that autumn window.

“One of them is you’d play a Six Nations tournament in that autumn that would combine with fixtures next year and for the first time ever you’d have home and away.”

The proposals are reported to include provisions to push the start of the professional club rugby season in the northern hemisphere back to December and for it to run deep into next summer. July tours by Northern hemisphere international teams would be moved to October leaving back-to-back windows for international matches in the autumn.

Sweeney said he remained hopeful that spectators would be able to watch games at England’s Twickenham stadium this autumn and the RFU was working on social distancing measures to allow crowds of some size to attend games.

He argued the economics of closed-doors games do not stack up for the RFU in the same way as they do for other rights-holders.

He noted: “Playing behind closed doors – for us – is not much different to the games being cancelled,” he said.

“By the time you fire up the stadium, pay for the players and the costs associated with preparation time and camps, when you play behind closed doors for us, there is not a huge difference between that and the games not taking place.

“Having attendance and having fans turning up is key.”

The RFU will hope the contingency plans can help to mitigate some of the commercial impact of the pandemic. In March the organisation warned it could face a revenue hit of between £45m (€49m/$53.6m) and £50m over the next 18 months, warning that the crisis could ‘considerably’ increase a projected loss for the financial year.