French government still to give green light to the Six Nations

Fabien Galthie’s 37 selected players and their five ‘training partners’ will enter an intense 10-day camp in sun and solitude on Monday
French government still to give green light to the Six Nations

A general view of the Stade de France ahead of last year's clash between the hosts and Italy. The 2021 competition remains in doubt ahead of a crunch meeting between French officials on Sunday. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

France’s internationals head to Nice on Monday for Six Nations camp, amid continuing doubts over whether the tournament will take place as scheduled.

Fabien Galthie’s 37 selected players and their five ‘training partners’ will enter an intense 10-day camp in sun and solitude to prepare for their opening match in Rome on February 6.

While Les Bleus have the go-ahead to play Italy, their remaining games, notably the trips to Ireland and England remain - officially, at least - in doubt. Some commentators have even questioned the wisdom of travelling to Nice when their traditional training complex at Marcoussis, near Paris, offers ready-made isolation.

The French government’s concerns over the spread of the UK-identified variant of Covid-19 prompted it to order Top 14 clubs to postpone their second block of European pool matches - which led first to the suspension and then the cancellation of those games.

Cases of coronavirus in France are rising, and have spiked sharply in recent days.

The country is under a 6pm to 6am national curfew, and - though the number of patients in intensive care is much lower now than it was last April - officials, including the Prime Minister and the Health Minister, have warned that another lockdown may be unavoidable, if the situation does not improve soon.

Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu had been making positive noises ahead of a crucial meeting in Paris on Sunday.

She told Le Figaro this week that “everyone wants, me most of all, [the Six Nations] to go ahead”.

“I asked the FFR to work with their counterparts to provide us with a health protocol. This has been submitted … it must [now] be validated by the Ministry of Health.”

But the numbers cannot be ignored. Maracineanu had earlier insisted that, “For the [games] against Ireland and England, we really have to obtain the necessary guarantees from these countries so that they show us that protocols are as demanding and serious as the one we have in France. When there are international meetings, we put the health of these athletes at risk. So we need to have guarantees ... to preserve the health of athletes, and it must be the same in all countries.”

Meanwhile, Racing 92 boss Jacky Lorenzetti, a president with one eye permanently on the lookout for the main chance, has not missed a golden PR opportunity to offer a one-venue alternative if the French government - acutely aware that cases of coronavirus are rising steadily - pulls the plug on squads entering or leaving the country.

According to reports in France, Ovalto, the Lorenzetti-owned firm that operates La Defense Arena, has offered full use of the self-contained venue to Six Nations organisers - along with free use of six hotels attached to the complex so the squads can stay in strictly maintained health bubbles - for the duration of the competition.

FFR vice president Serge Simon dismissed the prospect of a one-venue Six Nations as ‘pure speculation’ - and, Midi Olympique has said that, so far, the proposal has garnered nothing but silence in response. Nor has the question of where Racing 92 would play during this period been explained- they are scheduled to play at home on February 13, which coincides with the weekend of the second round of the tournament. That’s clearly a question for ‘later’.

The strong hope and expectation is that, following Sunday’s meeting, the tournament will get the green light to go ahead on the dates and at the venues scheduled - FFR president Bernard Laporte told broadcaster France Info: “I understand that some are sceptical, but the Tournament will take place,” amid increased testing, similar to the extended autumn international period.

If, however, the French government - concerned at the state of the health situation - ultimately says ‘non’ to France travelling to Dublin and London, or allowing Scotland and Wales to head to Paris, it that may suddenly look a lot more tempting to tournament organisers than even postponement - especially with investors CVC no doubt watching very closely.

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