Social distancing rules key to Scotland’s autumn Tests at BT Murrayfield

Going from two metres to one metre could allow up to 30,000 at Murrayfield

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson believes a reduction in the two-metre social distancing rule could allow Scotland to play home matches in the autumn in front of a near half-full BT Murrayfield – providing a much-needed cash boost.

Dodson said the hope remained that the planned November series, with scheduled Tests against Argentina, Japan and New Zealand in Edinburgh on 7, 14 and 21 November can take place, but accepts that it is all dependent on how the Covid-19 situation unfolds.

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The Scottish Government is due to give an update on the easing of lockdown on 18 June and, if that is positive, Dodson hopes some of Scotland’s professional players will be able to return to Murrayfield from four days after that to resume limited training and fitness testing.

A suspended Six Nations and Pro14 add to the scheduling headache but Dodson said: “The issue around the autumn Tests is crucial to us.

“The reason everyone is talking about social distancing from two metres to one-and-a-half, one and zero is that it has a significant impact on how many tickets we can sell, how many people can come through the door and enjoy whatever Test schedule we can put forward.”

Dodson has previously stated that the loss of the November Tests would cost the union up to £12 million, with any wipeout of next year’s Six Nations presenting a doomsday of “north of £40 million” in losses.

He added: “It’s not an exact science but two metres makes it very difficult to get more than 10,000 people into BT Murrayfield but you could probably get up to 30,000 into the stadium with social distancing being relaxed.”

Lockdown over the past 12 weeks has managed to push down infections and deaths but Dodson is well aware that a slow process lies ahead.

“From where we stand at the moment, our presumption is that those Tests will go ahead behind closed doors until we’re told different from government,” he added.

“We’re working really closely with the Scottish Government and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to play with crowds for the autumn schedule but we’re not convinced and we’ve budgeted for the worst-case scenario.”

There remains the question of whether the opposition will

want to travel. Dodson admitted: “That’s one of the great uncertainties

“You’ve got a situation where everyone is at different points in the proposals.

“What we’ve got to find out is how the pandemic moves and as soon as we get clarity around that, it will give us certainty around what we can and can’t do, but we’re working on a number of scenarios.

“The more we can stick to the original schedule, the better. We’re modelling all kinds of scenarios with our Six Nations colleagues to make sure we can put some kind of autumn Tests on. The problem with the lack of certainty is that you have to plan several situations.”

Scotland were left with one Six Nations match to play when their finale in Wales was postponed, with matches between France-Italy, Italy-England and France-Ireland also outstanding.

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to finish this year’s Six Nations in the autumn,” said Dodson.

“It’s important to everyone, and to the tournament itself. We’re very hopeful we can have crowds at the Six Nations and have a more normal Six Nations because the idea of having it behind closed doors, or not at all, then we’re in a different world and a different level of fragility in terms of the finances. We told you that takes us into the sphere of £40m losses and that’s a different scenario.

“We’ve looked at a whole raft of different options, from small competitions to competitions with other nations. We’re still trying to fathom what will be the most likely, and which will be the ones that we can get away most early to give ourselves a chance of selling tickets and to make sure the broadcasters are happy.”

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