Postponed Women's Six Nations set for April with new format

England are the only fully professional squad in the tournament which has created problems around bubbling and travel. Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges

The delayed Women's Six Nations will take place from April 3 across four weekends in a new play-off style format, organisers announced on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the women's tournament was postponed until spring or the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The revised tournament will begin with two pools of three teams playing one home and one away fixture. After the initial pool round matches, teams will face the opposing pool in a play-off style fixture before a grand final weekend, similar to the Autumn Nations Cup.

Wales, France and Ireland have been drawn in Pool A, while England, Italy and Scotland comprise Pool B and games will take place across April on the weekends of 3-4, 10-11, 17-18 and 24-25.

The tournament will also form part of a qualification series for the 2021 Rugby World Cup, which is hosted by New Zealand in September with Ireland, Scotland and Italy yet to qualify.

The women's Six Nations tournament normally follows the same calendar as the men's competition which starts on Feb. 6 in Rome with Italy vs. France, however Ben Morel, Six Nations CEO said the game could "hugely benefit" from having it's own specific window and placed in the limelight.

"Our priority has always been to deliver two outstanding tournaments but equally ensuring both competitions can be played safely, taking every consideration for player welfare," Morel said in a statement.

- Play ESPN's Rugby Pick'em for FREE

"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. 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.

"The U20 Six Nations Championship is also a hugely important competition in terms of player development and for those representing their country at this level it is a major milestone in any career. We look forward to announcing fixture details for the U20's in due course."

Ireland's RFU director of Women's Rugby, Anthony Eddy said: "We welcome today's announcement of the 2021 Women's Six Nations rescheduling and are looking forward to the new format. We have continued to prepare for this tournament since its postponement earlier this year, and for our Rugby World Cup qualifications. It's good to get the start of a road map for the months ahead.

"We will also continue to work with World Rugby to ensure our Rugby World Cup 2021 qualification games can take place in a timely and safe manner."

England, the reigning women's champions, are the only professional team in the tournament with France semi-professional. The other four teams mainly consist of players who are considered "amateurs" which has created issues over testing, bubbles and travelling.

Wales head coach Warren Abrahams, said in a statement: "We've all overcome different challenges to get here and the uncertainty has been the toughest part so this news is pretty exciting.

"France and Ireland are great fixtures to work towards and will provide an opportunity to measure ourselves with the Rugby World Cup coming up in September. It's very welcome news for women's rugby in the northern hemisphere."

Further details on fixtures and locations are yet to be announced.

Three fixtures in the 2020 Six Nations tournament were cancelled and never rearranged due to the ongoing pandemic.

The European qualification tournament for the Women's World Cup was indefinitely postponed in November due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.