THE prospect of Scotland playing their Six Nations opener against England in front of a full house at Murrayfield on 5th February appeared to receive a gentle boost from Nicola Sturgeon yesterday, when she spoke about being hopeful that current Covid restrictions which limit attendance at outdoor events to 500 might be relaxed on 17th January.
Towards the end of a generally austere Covid update, the First Minister was asked if she could provide clarity to local businesses about the prospect of having 67,000 rugby fans passing their front door on the day of the Calcutta Cup, and there was a perceptible uplift in her tone – although she insisted that she could not guarantee anything at this stage of the battle against the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus.
“We have, right throughout [the pandemic], had very good discussions with the SRU about matches at Murrayfield,” she said. “They [the SRU] have been very, very constructive at working with us to enable games to go ahead.
“I know how important clarity is for those who cater for big sporting events, not least matches at Murrayfield, so that is very much in our mind as we make decisions.
“I hope very much that we won’t have to go beyond the 17th January with these restrictions.
“All of us, including myself, want to be able to cheer Scotland on in the Six Nations, but I don’t do anybody any good if I try to give certainty ahead of our ability to do that.
”We will continue to use the data, use the evidence, and reach the judgements that get that clarity and certainty as quickly as possible.
“And I certainly do very firmly hope that these matches will go ahead and will go ahead to crowds of supporters.”
Meanwhile, the SRU was tight-lipped yesterday about its position on recent speculation in the English press suggesting the Calcutta Cup match could be switched to St James’ Park in Newcastle if crowds are not allowed at Murrayfield.
“The possibility must surely be explored,” said former Scotland and Lions head coach Ian McGeechan. “As a player, given the choice of playing in an empty stadium at Murrayfield or a full house of Scots just over the border, I know which I’d have chosen.
“And there are currently no legal restrictions preventing fans from crossing the border.”
To switch to St James’ Park would demonstrate a disdain for Covid regulations in this country and undoubtedly infuriate the Scottish Government, who recently directed a £20m bail-out fund towards Murrayfield.
Sturgeon also announced a new £5m support package for sport yesterday, and rugby’s share of that cash injection would be put at risk by such an attempt to side-step Covid regulations.