England could move their summer tour of Japan back to October and take part in a bumper “home and away” Six Nations beginning in November as part of a radical overhaul of the calendar because of the coronavirus crisis.
Eddie Jones’s side have a two-Test tour of Japan in July but while that will almost certainly not go ahead the Rugby Football Union chief executive, Bill Sweeney, has revealed England could travel to east Asia in October instead.
Sweeney also said if the southern hemisphere nations are unable to fulfil their autumn fixtures a wider Six Nations tournament, that would also include next year’s fixtures, may be introduced.
Those proposals could put the RFU on a collision course with Premiership Rugby, who may either be trying to finish the current season or start the 2020-21 campaign in the autumn. If that is the case, England internationals could be unavailable for their clubs for weeks on end, given the 2020 Six Nations tournament also needs to be completed, raising questions over player welfare and player release.
Any proposal to restructure the season would have to be put to the Premiership via the Professional Game Board but a senior source said that in the autumn “there will be a massive compression of club and international fixtures and it’s not all going to fit”.
World Rugby sees the international game as the priority because of the revenues it can drive, and is expected to confirm contingency plans for its summer tours this month as unions anticipate crippling losses. The RFU is forecasting losses of £50m in the next 18 months but can make around £10m per home match with Twickenham fixtures accounting for 85% of the union’s revenue.
Sweeney told the BBC: “We might go [to Japan] in October. That’s one option, because obviously they’d rather host, they make more money when they host, and we’d come back and play our autumns [internationals].
“If we weren’t able to travel to each other we’d want to do something to fill our gap, so we’re looking at a range of different contingencies. An obvious one is: do you stage a Six Nations in the autumn but link it into the Six Nations the next year, and you have a home and away series?”
The Japan tour was to be a developmental opportunity for fringe players with England’s World Cup squad rested but Jones has recently suggested that is no longer the case in light of the enforced break. He will have guaranteed access to England players for the rearranged Six Nations match against Italy but it may need to be negotiated for rescheduled summer tours.
“The situation is hypothetical,” said an RFU spokesperson. “As you would expect the RFU is talking to all parties to consider every possibility in the best interests of players and fans. The impact of Covid-19 requires cooperation and compromise and there may be opportunities for both club and country from rescheduling the calendar.”
Sweeney also confirmed discussions over a reduction in England’s £25,000 match fees – as revealed by the Guardian – and suggested he wants the team to follow the lead of Wales, who have agreed pay cuts of 25%. Sweeney added: “[The players] are a very reasonable bunch of people. The executive team and Eddie himself have taken cuts which are in excess of 25%.”