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Six Nations CEO indicates willingness to move from current calendar slot

However, John Feehan says it could only be a matter of weeks.

Murray Kinsella reports from Edinburgh

SIX NATIONS CEO John Feehan says he is not against the idea of moving the tournament from its current slot in the rugby calendar – but only if it is a matter of weeks.

Feehan, who was in Edinburgh yesterday in his capacity as Lion CEO, was previously thought to be against any movement of the Six Nations.

Ireland players celebrate at the winners board Ireland were Six Nations champions in 2014 and 2015. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The current World Rugby agreement for international rugby fixtures expires in 2019, with no Test matches scheduled or agreed upon thereafter, meaning unions have been engaged in serious discussions about the future.

Southern hemisphere unions hope to see the current June tours pushed forward to July, meaning Super Rugby would not be forced to pause when the northern hemisphere sides travel south.

Moving those summer tours would mean a re-organisation of the northern hemisphere season, however, and the Six Nations – which currently takes place in February and March – has previously indicated a desire not to do so.

But with the discussions around the global calendar continuing, Feehan has indicated a softening of that position.

I didn’t actually say I wouldn’t move the Six Nations,” said Feehan. “I think it’s broadly in the right spot, but a couple of weeks either way wouldn’t make a huge difference.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to move it into May because it’s a very busy slot in the sporting calendar. We have a slot where most other sports don’t come up against us.

“In an ideal world if there were 60 weeks in a year, we’d be laughing. The reality is that we have to fit it in 52. But we’ll get there, we’ll work it out.

World Rugby are running the discussions and debate around the global season amongst the unions, though Feehan has input through the home unions’ position as members of the Six Nations.

The Lions, who confirmed Warren Gatland as head coach yesterday, are also important players in this saga.

John Feehan Feehan was in Edinburgh yesterday for the announcement of Gatland as Lions coach. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Feehan is keen to ensure that the Lions do not lose out in any new agreement for the calendar.

“The biggest issue to us is that it significantly impacts our costs and that’s something we’ll have to address going forward,” said Feehan.

“The new deal will have to wait for wider discussion around the global season and the Lions will fit into that. It’s very important, not just to our own unions but in an odd way even more to the host unions.

“There will be Lions tours and how it fits into the structure within the season is largely down to those discussions, but I wouldn’t see it changing hugely at this stage. There will have to be some adaptation and change, but almost every single [aspect] of rugby has to adapt or change a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Feehan said the Lions expect more than 30,000 supporters to follow Warren Gatland’s side in New Zealand next year.

The 2005 tour of New Zealand saw the Lions bring 29,000 supporters and Feehan is confident even more will turn out next year.

That will prove lucrative to New Zealand, according to Feehan, who says the profits for the host nation will come close to those in 2013 in Australia.

“We estimated in Australia it was worth about $60 million to Australia,” said Feehan. “The stadia in Australia are bigger and could accommodate more fans.

“But we are basically sold out in terms of the venues [in New Zealand]. There will be 350,000 people at the games next year. It’s all sold out, all 10 venues. It will be worth a lot to them. It won’t be too far behind Australia.”

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Murray Kinsella

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