England are still planning for rugby Tests against southern hemisphere opposition in November, with a first-ever home-and-away Six Nations among the back-up options.
The international rugby calendar has been turned on its head by the coronavirus outbreak, with this year’s Six Nations yet to finish.
The Rugby Championship is unlikely to start on schedule in August – if it does at all – and the fate of the lucrative November Test fixtures is still up in the air.
“The preference of both the north and south is that the original program will go ahead,” Bill Sweeney, chief executive of England’s Rugby Football Union, said on Thursday of the autumn internationals.
“But, of course, that is driven a lot by international travel restrictions and guidelines. Both of us are developing our own backup and contingency plans for that.”
England, who are scheduled to play New Zealand, Tonga, Australia and Argentina on successive weekends at Twickenham in November, has the highest official daily death rate of any country in Europe at present.
Lockdown restrictions are being gradually eased, but there are still social-distancing guidelines in place and air passengers arriving in Britain from Monday face a mandatory two-week quarantine period.
Although some sports have started up, there is no imminent prospect of rugby being played in the country.
The countries that make up the Six Nations – England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales – have been looking at alternative ideas if southern hemisphere countries do not visit this November.
One of them is expanding the Six Nations schedule, so that the 2021 edition starts this autumn and teams play each other home and away for the first time in the competition’s history.
The proposal was raised by Italian rugby leaders in a media call on Wednesday, and Sweeney confirmed it was one of the options being evaluated.
“It is possible,” Sweeney said.
“Our plans are for an autumn series to go ahead – who it is against, at the moment, we cannot give 100 per cent certainty. But we are planning on autumn internationals taking place.”