International rugby, as Danny Cipriani reflected last week, has become a war of attrition and territory, a physical grind that repudiates risk and makes for dull viewing. All that threatens to be unpredictable about the looming Six Nations is whether it will go ahead in its entirety, with the French government concerned about exposing its citizens to the Covid-19 variant that has boosted transmission rates in the UK and Ireland.
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Had things worked out differently, Tadhg Beirne would be lining out in the blue corner at Thomond Park this evening, and in another world entirely, he would be pulling on a red jersey in the Six Nations opener in two weeks' time.
It's foolish to predict anything in the current climate but, all things being equal, the majority, if not all, of the back-rows who are set to be included in Ireland's upcoming Six Nations squad will be in action at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.
Apart from today's 'A' fixture between Ulster and Leinster, there are no rugby matches on the island of Ireland this weekend. We do have Munster v Leinster to look forward to next Saturday, but perhaps the IRFU missed a trick by not bringing it forward seven days and freeing up January 23 for a final Six Nations trial.
French Federation (FFR) president and World Rugby vice chairman Bernard Laporte has reiterated his belief that the Six Nations will go ahead as planned, adding that he expects participating players will be tested more frequently.
Defiant Six Nations bosses are adamant the tournament will go ahead as scheduled despite concerns raised by French authorities after organisers confirmed they have reinforced Covid-19 protocols and intend to proceed with all fixtures as planned.
The Six Nations has confirmed that the men's tournament will proceed as planned, but organisers have announced that the Women's and U-20s tournaments have been postponed until later in the year, due to mounting concerns surrounding the spread of Covid-19.
The French deputy minister for sport will sanction the national team's participation in the opening Six Nations match against Italy in Rome, but is demanding further information before allowing the tournament as a whole to proceed.
Handed two free weekends to work with at short notice by the temporary suspension of the Heineken Champions Cup, organisers of the Guinness PRO14 opted to re-fix one match for each weekend rather than bring forward a full round of fixtures from later in the season.
The French Minister for Sport will sanction the national team's participation in the opening Six Nations match against Italy in Rome, but is demanding further information before allowing the tournament as a whole to proceed.
For all the talk that international rugby is boring at the moment, I prefer to hold judgement until next year's Six Nations at the earliest. Given everything that has happened in 2020 I just do not think it is fair to be critiquing and assessing the landscape and to be probing Test rugby for all its flaws.
Ireland have called upon the services of renowned high performance coach Gary Keegan in a bid to ensure that there isn't a repeat of last year's 'performance anxiety' which the IRFU believed hampered the team at the World Cup.
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