New-format Women's Six Nations set for April

London (AFP) –


The delayed 2021 Women's Six Nations will now take place in April with a condensed four-week format culminating in a grand final to decide the champions, organisers said Wednesday.

The tournament traditionally runs alongside the men's event, using the same league format.

But, while the men's Six Nations will get underway as scheduled this weekend, the women's competition was postponed last month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the women's teams largely made up of amateur players -- 2020 champions England are the only fully professional side while France are semi-professional -- it was felt there was no realistic prospect of fitting all six teams into the kind of bio-secure bubbles that will exist during the men's tournament.

The six women's teams will be split into two groups of three, in a format that echoes last year's men's Autumn Nations Cup.

Starting on the weekend of April 3-4, the women's team will play one goup match at home and the other away, with the pool winners facing each other in a playoff final on April 24.

The teams finishing second and third in one group will play their respective counterparts in the other pool.

England and France -- long the two strongest European women's 15-a-side nations -- have been placed in separate pools.

England will face Italy and Scotland in group play, with France up against Ireland and Wales.

Fixture dates, venues and kick-off times, however, have yet to be confirmed.

In addition, the Under-20s Six Nations will take place in June and July in its original format, but also in a reduced three-week schedule.

Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said there was "huge opportunity for growth in the women's game" and that the women's Six Nations would "benefit hugely" from its own specific window.

"A significant challenge we faced in rescheduling the women's tournament was the limited available window due to World Cup qualifiers, domestic leagues, rest periods and World Cup preparations for qualified teams," Morel added.

"Following consultation with our unions and federations as well as other key stakeholders, it was agreed that April would be the best window in which to stage the championship."