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RUGBY NEWS Six Nations men's Championship will proceed as planned but women's and U-20 tournaments postponed

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Ireland will kick-start their Six Nations Championship against Wales on February 7

Ireland will kick-start their Six Nations Championship against Wales on February 7

SPORTSFILE

Ireland will kick-start their Six Nations Championship against Wales on February 7

The Six Nations has confirmed that the men's tournament will proceed as planned, but organisers have announced that the Women's and U-20s tournaments have been postponed until later in the year, due to mounting concerns surrounding the spread of Covid-19.

The men's Six Nations is due to begin on February 6, with Ireland in action the following day against Wales, and although doubts have hung over the tournament going ahead due to France's concerns surrounding testing protocols, organisers are optimistic of getting it off the ground in the coming weeks.

A Six Nations statement read:

“Whilst closely monitoring the situation, Six Nations Rugby also confirms plans to stage the men’s Guinness Six Nations Championship remain as scheduled.

“Following the successful completion of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup, Six Nations Rugby is in constant dialogue with each of its governmental authorities and is further reinforcing its Covid-19 protocols.

“The Championship kicks off with Round 1 fixtures on the 6th February with Italy v France, followed by England v Scotland, and Wales Ireland on February 7th.”

Ordinarily, the Women's and U-20s Six Nations would run in conjunction with the men's tournament, but given the largely amateur status of the women's and U-20s players, the decision has been made to push both forward.

No new dates have yet been decided, but it is hoped that the Women's and U-20s Six Nations will take place in “later this spring or early summer.” A further update is due before the end of the month.

Last year's Women's Six Nations was severely disrupted by the pandemic, with Ireland's final game against France eventually cancelled.

That was the last match Adam Griggs' team played, and although the squad held a training camp at the IRFU's High Performance Centre last weekend, their preparations must now be further put on hold.

Ireland have entered a crucial World Cup year, but they have not yet qualified for the showpiece event, which is due to be held in New Zealand in September and October.

Confirmation has not yet been made as to when exactly Ireland can attempt to book their World Cup place after last year's qualifying tournament, which includes Scotland, Italy and Russia or Spain, was postponed.

"This is disappointing news that we fully accept is in the best interests of everyone involved,” IRFU director of women's rugby Antony Eddy said.

“Our training programme is reviewed on an ongoing basis to adapt to ever changing circumstances and our players have demonstrated a commendable attitude and resilience in this regard while adhering to strict safety protocols.

"We will also continue to work with World Rugby to ensure our Rugby World Cup 2021 qualification games can take place in a timely and safe manner."

The 2021 Junior World Cup is not set take place for the second year running and it will come as a devastating blow to the country's best young players – many of whom will never get another chance to play on such a big stage.

The absence of the World Cup does however, potentially pave the way for the U-20s Six Nations to take place in June.

“Six Nations Rugby confirmed it will finalise the respective timings and formats for both the Women’s and U-20s competitions in consultation with all unions, broadcast partners and stakeholders, with full details to be announced by the end of January,” a statement read.

The Ireland U-20s will have a new-look coaching team in charge this year as Kieran Campbell takes over as head coach from Noel McNamara, while Denis Leamy has come on board as defence coach.

Ben Morel, CEO, Six Nations Rugby Limited added:

“We are fiercely committed to the promotion and development of rugby at all levels, particularly the women’s game where we see such exciting opportunity for growth.

“This is not a decision that we rushed into and we are confident that in looking at a new later window, we will be in a far stronger position to deliver two fantastic tournaments, delivering exciting rugby for fans, and ensuring the safest possible environment in which to stage them for our players.”

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