Wales asked Premiership Rugby to release the six England-based players named on Wednesday in their Six Nations squad for the duration of the tournament to reduce the risk of Covid-19 bursting their bubble, but they will have to hand them back for the tournament’s two fallow weeks.
Three of the six – Dan Biggar, Tomas Francis and Taulupe Faletau – are expected to be regulars in Wales’s match-day squad while the others – Callum Sheedy, Will Rowlands and Louis Rees-Zammit – are likely to play a part in some if not all of the matches.
Under Premiership Rugby rules, all non-England players are expected to return to their clubs during an international period if they are not selected in a match-day 23 and in the two fallow weeks of the Six Nations. Wales sought a dispensation to reduce the risk of any of their players testing positive for the virus, but they will only hold on to the Premiership six during the week of a match.
After announcing his squad for the Six Nations, the Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said discussions were being held with Premiership Rugby and that he hoped for a decision before the end of the week, adding: “With Covid, you would like to think that common sense will come into play: moving in and out of bubbles is when the transmission rate takes off.
“We do not want to have players coming and going with the new variant transmitting very quickly. This tournament is so important for communities because it gives them something to look forward to and we want to make sure our squad is intact and that the show goes on.”
England will stick with a 28-strong squad throughout the Six Nations amid concerns from the French government over whether the tournament should proceed because of the variant that has increased transmission rates in Britain and Ireland, but Premiership Rugby said players from others countries involved in the Six Nations would have to return to their clubs in the two fallow weeks when Premiership matches will be played.
Pivac has named Alun Wyn Jones as his captain even though the second row has not played since suffering a knee injury at the end of the Autumn Nations Cup campaign, while the 33-year old flanker Dan Lydiate has been recalled more than two years after he won the last of his 64 caps.
“Alun Wyn is flying in training and is on track for our first game against Ireland,” said Pivac. “Dan is the form blindside flanker in the Pro14 and has a lot of experience. He is back to his best and while we used the autumn to look at young players, we are here to win the Six Nations and have picked the squad accordingly.”
Pivac named 36 players in his squad but there was no room for James Botham, Shane Lewis-Hughes or Iona Lloyd. Twelve players have passed the 50-cap mark as Pivac, who has a break clause in his contract at the end of the year, opts for experience after his first Six Nations campaign yielded one victory, against Italy.