Today’s rugby headlines as Six Nations faces fresh chaos with anti-vax players effectively ‘barred from games’

Here are some of the stories making the headlines on Saturday January 8.

Six Nations facing new threat

The Six Nations is facing a fresh Covid threat amid reports players who refuse to get vaccinated could effectively be barred from some matches.

The Telegraph are reporting a rule change is being pushed by UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, which would end the special exemption currently granted to elite sports stars.

At present, unjabbed sportsmen returning to the UK from abroad can break 10 days of isolation to train with their team and play in matches.

But according to the paper, Dorries is looking to end that and make sure athletes are treated like any other member of the public.

The news will send shock waves through a raft of sports, including top Premier League football clubs playing in the Champions League and Europa League. They would be unable to select unvaccinated players in the days after their return to the UK.

Rugby would also be hit, say the Telegraph, with ‘Six Nations matches and European club games the first affected by any rule change.’

They cite the case of England star Henry Slade who last year revealed he hadn’t been vaccinated.

Players could be forced to miss training, thus in effect ruling them out of upcoming matches.

It is unclear at present precisely how this would affect Wales, or which players, if any, would be hit.

Wales sets its own policy around health but has generally followed the UK Government’s rules around travel restrictions throughout the pandemic.

Wales kick-off the defence of their title on February 5 away to Ireland in Dublin, before hosting Scotland the following weekend.

France have three home matches and Italy two in the tournament. There is also the knock-on effect the rule change would have for players returning from Test matches abroad who then link up with their club or regional sides.

The paper quote a UK Government source familiar with the discussions as saying: “If you want to have special treatment you’ve got to do your bit. Getting vaccinated isn’t only about you, but others.”

The news comes hot on the heels of Australian authorities blocking world number one tennis star Novak Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, from entering the country to defend his Australian Open title in Melbourne.

The Six Nations is already facing turmoil with Wales not permitted to have fans at the Principality Stadium and Scotland only 500 at Murrayfield for their games.

The WRU have explored the option of taking their home matches across the Bridge into England, where supporters are permitted. Eddie Jones’ England will have 80,000-plus sellouts for their Twickenham games.

Should Wales play Six Nations games in England? You can also take the survey here.

Drakeford understands Wales looking at England option

First Minister Mark Drakeford says he has no problem with Wales looking at every option open to them ahead of the Six Nations.

The WRU have been exploring the possibility of staging home games across the Bridge in England in a bid to generate an income should the shut-out of meaningful crowds continue here in Wales.

The integrity of the 2022 tournament is threatened with significant restrictions in place in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, while England and Italy are able to host capacity crowds in one of sport’s most partisan events.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has been suggested as one possible venue for Wales’ games, should the ban on fans continue into February and March, while Sir Ian McGeechan says the WRU should go to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, home of Wasps.

Insisting the restrictions had to remain in place for the time being, Drakeford said: “I make no criticism of the WRU for exploring all the options that are available to them.

“They are a business and as a responsible business it seems to me that they are bound to look at all the different possibilities that are there in front of them.

“Whether they will choose to go ahead and play games elsewhere with the undoubted risks that would bring, were we to be still in the eye of the storm of coronavirus, I think is a very debatable question.

“But whether I have any problem with them looking at the options that they have available to them, no I don’t.”

Alun Wyn battles with Dupont for award

Wales and Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is on the shortlist for a world rugby award.

The vertan lock features among the nominees for the Rugby Union Writers’ Club personality of the year for 2021.

Among his rivals is France star Antoine Dupont, the reigning World Rugby player of the year.

He has emerged as one of the game’s most exciting talents by redefining the role of a scrum-half through his electric running, robust defence and impeccable decision-making.

However, Alun Wyn will also have his backers after leading Wales to the Six Nations title and then showing remarkable powers of recovery to return from a shoulder injury and skipper the Lions in South Africa.

Also on the shortlist are Pacific Islands rugby campaigner Dan Leo and rising England star Marcus Smith.

Second row Zoe Aldcroft and head coach Simon Middleton, who have helped England Women compile an 18-game winning run, represent the Red Roses on the six-strong list.

The winner will be announced later this month.

Folau is back – and as good as before

Controversial former Wallabies star Israel Folau is back in rugby union after a three year absence.

Folau was down to make his debut for Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu in Japan’s rebranded Rugby League One.

He was named at 15 for the clash with Kobe Steelers.

Once dubbed among the best players in the world, Folau’s image was tainted in 2019 when he aired homophobic views and was sacked by Rugby Australia.

After spells in rugby league with Catalan Dragons and the Southport Tigers in the Queensland Cup, Folau returns to the 15-a-side game – and we’re being told his talent hasn’t waned one iota.

Former Australia team-mate Liam Gill, who also plays for Shining Arcs, is quoted as saying in the Mirror : “Izzy has just picked up where he left off. I dare say once he plays this season of the Japanese League One, he’ll be considered one of the best in the world again.

“He hasn’t really left anything behind in his time off.”

There is also the possibility Folau will play at the World Cup next year, but in the colours of Tonga under rugby’s new eligibility laws.

He has signed a two-year deal to play for the Shining Arcs, which would take him up to the 2023 tournament.

Eleanore Beatty

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