Chiefs to decide Six Nations’ future

Thursday, March 01, 2001
SIX NATIONS chiefs will hold a crisis meeting tomorrow to decide whether the tournament needs to be abandoned due to the foot and mouth outbreak.

Representatives from each country will join in a telephone conference to discuss the future of the competition.

Saturday’s match between Wales and Ireland in Cardiff has been postponed and further matches are under threat.

French Rugby Federation president Bernard Lapasset said: ‘‘With the situation such as it is today, there is a risk of postponing the matches scheduled for March and April until May.’’

Doubts now surround matches between France and Wales in Paris on March 17 and Ireland and England in Dublin on March 24.

But officials in Britain believe there will be no time to reschedule these games and the tournament will have to be abandoned.

However, chairman of the Six Nations committee Allan Hosie said hopes were high that, apart from Saturday’s postponed Wales and Ireland match, the championship can go ahead as planned.

‘‘The meeting will also discuss contingency plans for alternate dates for any other postponed matches, if required,’’ he said. ‘‘It is hoped that all championship matches will be played on the existing dates.’’

Meanwhile, there is no immediate panic in the Lions camp, despite fears that the Six Nations Championship will be decimated by cancellations.

The Lions travel to Australia this summer and the Six Nations has always played a huge role in the selection process.

Yesterday, however, neither tour manager Donal Lenihan or coach Graham Henry expressed any fears at their ability to select a squad capable of winning the series with the Wallabies.

“A lot of the work has already been done. We have a fair idea of who we want to tour and good players don’t become bad players overnight just because they can’t play in a match that has been postponed,” said Henry.

Lenihan revealed that up to 27 of the 37 man squad had already been pencilled in subject to current form.

“We have watched a huge amount of players in action from the start of this season so everything does not hinge on the Six Nations.”

But he did express worry that further postponements might well disrupt their plans for selection.

“Ideally, we had hoped to name the squad in the middle of April, but I don’t know whether that might be possible if further disruptions were to follow the postponement of the Wales Ireland game.

“It appears that the England Scotland game will go ahead and in terms of previous Lions tours, where it was a five team tournament, each of them would then be three quarters of the way through their programme.”

That, of course, doesn’t take into account Ireland’s plight. Having played Italy and France, the Irish players were about to launch a challenge for the Triple Crown, individuals against individuals in competition for places in the Lions squad.

If the foot and mouth crisis continues, and it appears it will worsen, then Ireland’s games with England at Lansdowne Road and Scotland at Murrayfield, could be in jeopardy.

Such an outcome would render the Championship null and void and could damage the prospects of certain players making the cut for the Lions squad, despite Lenihan’s pledge that the selectors had done a lot of homework on the various candidates.

Facts are, though, that English and Scottish players will most likely get better opportunities to perform on the big stage and any 50 50 decisions facing the selectors could work against the Irish.

Lenihan said the selectors would overcome any possible difficulties. “Between us we have attended a huge number of games this season. We have a good idea. In a 50 50 situation we will look at things very carefully and trust our judgement.”

While the Irish worry about their games with England and Scotland, Wales, trying to re arrange the Irish fixture for April 28, are concerned about whether they will be allowed to go ahead with their away matches against France and Italy.

WRU secretary Dennis Gethin admitted: “There must be question marks over those fixtures. The situation is being studied and we will have to wait until nearer the dates to make decisions. But it is a major concern as we are due in France in a fortnight. It isn’t looking too promising at the moment.”

Gethin stressed that those in possession of tickets for the doomed Wales Ireland match should hold on to them if they intend travelling for the match on a revised date.

“There is the option of a refund, but we hope the majority of people will hold on to their tickets. Should we be able to find another date for the game, they will be valid.”

The players in Wales have mixed views on the reasons why the match was shelved. Flanker Colin Charvis believes the Welsh were robbed of a chance to prove their critics wrong.

“After a defeat and a draw, everyone expected us to lose, but I really believed we could have won this match. We have had our problems, but we proved ourselves in Dublin last year when nobody else expected us to.”

Scott Gibbs took a different view. The big centre lives in a rural area of Wales and backed the decision to call off the match. “The risk was too great. I know people are coming and going from Ireland all the time, but rugby would have been blamed had the disease spread to Ireland and I don’t think the rugby people in Ireland could take the risk of being branded in that way.

“A postponed international isn’t a big deal when you think of what farmers in England and Wales are now going through and what farmers in Ireland might have to face. Everything has to be put into perspective.”

If the game cannot be replayed, Welsh clubs stand to lose a fortune. The WRU relies on pay days such as this for a large part of their income, much of which goes back into club rugby.

Welsh team manager David Pickering warned that club rugby would suffer unbearable financial consequences if the fixture goes to the wall.

“There will be less money to hand out to the clubs next year and many of those clubs are already in financial difficulty. It is crucial that we find another day for the match.”