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no crowds Upcoming Six Nations campaign is set to start behind closed doors

Organisers prepare for possibility of no fans or reduced capacity due to rising Covid cases

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Ireland players Conor Murray, left, and Hugo Keenan congratulate team-mate Keith Earls during Ireland's behind-closed-doors Six Nations clash against England at the Aviva Stadium last March. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland players Conor Murray, left, and Hugo Keenan congratulate team-mate Keith Earls during Ireland's behind-closed-doors Six Nations clash against England at the Aviva Stadium last March. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland players Conor Murray, left, and Hugo Keenan congratulate team-mate Keith Earls during Ireland's behind-closed-doors Six Nations clash against England at the Aviva Stadium last March. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Some of this season’s Six Nations matches may take place behind closed doors if the situation around Covid-19 does not improve.

Currently, five of the six participating countries have restrictions on crowds – with England the exception – and organisers are holding talks to establish whether they will be lifted in time for the tournament kick-off in a month’s time.

According to reports in England, organisers are determined to avoid cancellations and would prefer to go ahead in empty stadiums than postpone games.

Ireland host Wales in their opening match at the Aviva Stadium on February 5, before facing France in Paris a week later. Currently, crowds in Ireland and France are limited to 5,000.

In Ireland, those restrictions are in place until January 31 and, with the IRFU deriving the majority of their income from internationals, and three home games against Wales, Italy and Scotland scheduled for this spring, the governing body will be desperate to see that number increased by next month.

New rules around travel to and from France are set to cause disruption too, with the French government requiring that all members of travelling parties be double-vaccinated to be allowed entry from January 15.

Although the IRFU reported a vaccine uptake rate of 99.2pc among their playing, coaching and administrative staff in October, it is understood that all members of the national team squad are not fully vaccinated.

This may prevent some members of the team from travelling to the round-two match against France. That could also have a disruptive influence on the Heineken Champions Cup.

Rounds one and two were heavily disrupted by the virus before Christmas, and organisers are working on guarantees from governments that rounds three and four can take place over the weekends of January 14 and 21.

“EPCR is continuing to work with the leagues and unions to obtain assurances that travel exemptions for players, club staff and match officials will be in place for matches in Rounds 3 and 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup,” a spokesperson said.

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