Six Nations hand England a Sunday date in Dublin

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The Independent Online

Next season's Six Nations match between Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road will be the first fixture between the two rivals since the great and good of Dublin slapped a ban on smoking in public. Much to the horror of those many rugby followers who enjoy doing things that are bad for them, excessive drinking is also in peril, thanks to the tournament directors' decision to play the game on a Sunday. At this rate, supporters will soon be required to complete two yoga sessions and a bleep test before entering the stadium.

Next season's Six Nations match between Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road will be the first fixture between the two rivals since the great and good of Dublin slapped a ban on smoking in public. Much to the horror of those many rugby followers who enjoy doing things that are bad for them, excessive drinking is also in peril, thanks to the tournament directors' decision to play the game on a Sunday. At this rate, supporters will soon be required to complete two yoga sessions and a bleep test before entering the stadium.

By taking the Sabbath option, the championship committee has effectively denied the travelling hordes the luxury of a recuperative day in bed before returning to work. Lansdowne Road is no stranger to Sunday rugby and tends to make the best of it; only a couple of weeks ago, Munster and Wasps played out an epic Heineken Cup semi-final in an atmosphere wholly worthy of the occasion. However, there is a mighty difference between a club game attracting 2,000 supporters from London and an international drawing in 20,000 from all over England. The scheduling is a cruel blow to those who treasure the Dublin weekend because of its excesses, rather than in spite of them.

As the England-France match has also been given a Sunday slot, it is clear that the BBC-driven broadcasting fraternity have won the important arguments. Having undertaken to broadcast all 15 games live, the corporation believes not only that a Saturday-Sunday split is essential, but that a healthy Sunday audience is dependant on a high-quality fixture being moved from its traditional place in the fixture list. The French, a big draw for the rugby public, had two Sunday slots in this season's tournament.

At least the broadcasters cannot be accused of manipulating the match schedule in the hope of ensuring a Grand Slam decider on the final day of the championship, as they patently did this year. The last round of games on 19 March will begin with Italy-France in Rome, continue with Wales-Ireland in Cardiff and end with the Calcutta Cup contest between England and Scotland at Twickenham - an evening attraction, kicking off at 6pm. It will be surprising indeed if any of those fixtures amount to a title shoot-out.

Happily, the delegates on the Six Nations committee have reached agreement on what amounts to a new European constitution - and without recourse to a referendum. Maybe New Labour should ask Jacques Laurans, the chairman, or Bill Beaumont, the new deputy chair and honorary treasurer, how this miracle came to pass. The accord includes formal recognition of Italy's place among the international élite and a new formula for the pooling and sharing of income.

Meanwhile, Jonny Wilkinson-less England have suffered another major casualty in advance of their summer tour of New Zealand and Australia - Phil Vickery, the Gloucester tight-head prop, who has been struggling with back trouble for the last fortnight, will undergo surgery on a bulging disc later this week. The 28-year-old Lion, a member of the World Cup-winning team, will be out of action for at least three months, and his absence in June will open the door for two tight-heads at opposite ends of the age spectrum; 30-year-old Julian White, of Leicester, and 21-year-old Matt Stevens, of Bath.

SIX NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP 2005 FIXTURES

Saturday 5 February
France v Scotland 2.0
Wales v England 5.30

Sunday, 6 February Italy v Ireland 2.30

Saturday 12 February
Italy v Wales 1.30
Scotland v Ireland 4.0

Sunday 13 February England v France 3.0

Saturday 26 February
Scotland v Italy 2.0
France v Wales 4.0

Sunday 27 February Ireland v England 3.0

Saturday 12 March
Ireland v France 1.30
England v Italy 4.0

Sunday 13 March Scotland v Wales 3.0

Saturday 19 March
Italy v France 1.0
Wales v Ireland 3.30
England v Scotland 6.0

(all times GMT)

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