THE Six Nations is set to get underway at the beginning of February as England defend their crown less than four months after winning it.
A 34-5 win over Italy in Rome was enough for the Red Rose to lift the trophy after Ireland were beaten by France in Paris.
But this year's tournament could be under threat amid fears that France may not turn up at all.
What have France said about the Six Nations?
The French government has concerns over coronavirus in the UK after the new mutant strain caused cases to soar earlier this month.
And the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup has been suspended after French clubs were advised not to play cross-border matches.
However, it has been confirmed that France will play their first match away to Italy on February 6.
But additional guarantees are sought for the away games against Ireland and England.
Currently everybody entering France from a non-EU country is obliged to quarantine for seven days, including sports teams.
French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu said: "We keep the first match.
"On the other hand, against Ireland and England we absolutely need to have the necessary guarantees from these countries.
"There has to be proof that the other nations' virus framework respects the same requirements in terms of precaution.
"We expect the same thing from the other teams."
But Six Nations Chief Executive Ben Morel believes the tournament will go ahead as planned.
He said: “We have provided all our protocols we have been considered as extremely robust and we are seeking some of the clarification on the specific rules about quarantine exemptions.
“That is what we are expecting further clarification from, which would look at entry from the UK, whether it is re-entry for the French teams or entry for the other unions.
"We are confident we will get the right authorisation.
“Generally elite sport benefits from widespread exemptions because they have stringent protocols.
"What we are awaiting is the detail on the exemption and we need to understand: is the exemption for the players, for the operational staff, for both?
"Anyone that is coming from the UK, that doesn’t have an exemption, we need clarity on whether that applies and to whom – that is when you are coming from the UK or any other non-EU country.
"We believe that exemptions are being given on a case-by-case. That is the green light that we are waiting on.”
Could the Six Nations be cancelled?
According to Sky Sports, it is highly unlikely that the tournament will go ahead without France participating.
However, the Guardian claim that none of the rugby associations involved can afford for the tournament not to go ahead.
That would open the door to moving the Six Nations to a later date, as had to be done with the 2020 competition, which was finished in October.
If France are unable to participate now then a summer tournament has been mooted, but that would depend on the Lions Tour in South Africa being cancelled.
The popular tour is under threat as a result of the mutant Covid strain which has emerged in South Africa and a timely decision is set to be made on whether it can go ahead.
But even if the Lions Tour is cancelled, a summer Six Nations would still have to be approved by the broadcasters and French clubs may object as their season is scheduled to start in August.
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