The Scottish Rugby Union has admitted that the worsening coronavirus situation could hit the capacities for 2021 Six Nations games and has cancelled existing ticket and membership products as a result.
The announcement was made as Scotland’s first match in the eight-team Autumn Nations Cup will be played against Italy at a venue to be confirmed as the organisers released the fixtures for the hastily-arranged tournament in November and early December.
An SRU statement said: “Following the cancellation of the previously scheduled 2020 Autumn Tests and the continuing uncertainty around social distancing guidelines (which may possibly affect 2021 Six Nations crowd capacities) Scottish Rugby has cancelled all its existing ticket and membership products, including the Scotland Season Pass, Autumn Test Package and Scotland Supporters Club membership.
“An announcement will be made shortly on how supporters will be able to access any available tickets for the Autumn Nations Cup games at BT Murrayfield.”
It is an admission from the governing body that effects of coronavirus, with cases on the rise in Scotland, the rest of the UK and across Europe, looks like it may go on well into the new year, with fears that the onset of winter may see a concerning situation deteriorate further.
The issue of numbers of fans at the Autumn Nations Cup games, if any, is now very much in doubt due to the recent surge in the spread of the virus. Scotland’s First Minister has delayed a decision on the return to sporting stadiums until 5 October following limited test events for football this weekend following a similar pilot of 700 at BT Murrayfield for last month’s Glasgow v Edinburgh game.
England are said to be “cautiously optimistic” after the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport limited attendances at test events at 1,000 for the rest of the month, pending review.
A recent Harlequins v Bath pilot match saw 2,700 supporters attend while the RFU have floated the possibility of having as many as 20,000 for a match against Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday 25 October, though that may now be viewed as overoptimistic.
As reported this week the Scots will be in the same section as Italy, who Gregor Townsend’s side will play on 14 November, France and Vern Cotter’s Fiji, with the latter two Tests both scheduled for BT Murrayfield on the following Sunday and Saturday before a finals weekend on Saturday 5 December.
The Scotsman understands that the opening match will be played in Italy, which is where Scotland played their last match on away soil with a 17-0 win in Rome on 22 February before the Covid-19 pandemic struck Europe. The tournament has been organised and hosted by the Six Nations, with Georgia joining Fiji as guest sides, and the home countries would have signed up agreeing to stage their two designated pool games.
France’s home matches are also listed with venues to be confirmed, as are Wales’ with the Principality Stadium currently being decommissioned from its role as an NHS “Nightingale Hospital”. The Welsh are also due to host Scotland to complete the suspended Six Nations on Saturday 31 October, with the London Stadium being mooted if fans are allowed and possibly another Welsh ground behind closed doors if not due to the current situation which has seen coronavirus surge in the UK and fresh restrictions imposed.
In the final Saturday the four teams from the first section - England, Ireland, Wales and Georgia - have been designated home teams, with the Georgians assigned to BT Murrayfield, and will play the teams ranked in the same position from Group B. Scotland will also play Georgia on Friday 23 October as a warm-up for their Wales match.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said: “This is an important first step on the international stage for all the nations involved in what will be an exciting series of matches. The Autumn Nations Cup is a welcome return to Test match rugby and we face some familiar opposition in Italy and France and a chance to host Fiji, many of their squad we know well through their connections to Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh.
“We are very much looking forward to working with our players again and taking on the challenge of this new tournament. Our squad depth will no doubt be tested over the four-week period but we’ve been encouraged by a number of strong individual displays so far this season.”
A broadcast deal has yet to be agreed but it is understood that Amazon, who are currently showing the US Open tennis, are the are frontrunners to secure the rights.
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