Scotland coach Gregor Townsend remains confident that this year’s Six Nations can be played to a finish despite the ongoing coronavirus threat.
European rugby chiefs have been forced to put the Champions Cup on hold after the French government expressed concern about its clubs travelling to virus hotspots.
Six Nations organisers have also decided to delay the women’s and under-20s competitions until later in the year.
But the men’s championship has been given the green light to press on and Townsend’s team will kick off their campaign away to England on February 6 as planned.
However, there are still lingering fears that the new super strain could put the tournament at risk of cancellation after the UK reported a record daily toll of 1610 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, while England head coach Eddie Jones had been forced to self-isolate following a positive test for his assistant.
But Townsend is assured all the necessary safeguards are now in place.
The Dark Blues boss said: “I’m as confident as I can be. From these discussions a couple of weeks ago, when the European competitions got cancelled, there were obviously doubts over France’s involvement and if the tournament would continue.
“But having gotten some feedback from the meeting around what each of the teams will have to do now, I think that has satisfied the French government and the competing nations.
“But then again, back in March we were preparing to face Wales and the game got cancelled the day before so we do understand things may change.
“However, the testing and the isolating processes we had in place during the autumn prove that we can get through this tournament without the virus getting into our camp and spreading.
“There has certainly been a lot of movement and discussions over the last couple of weeks to make sure the tournament goes ahead and it’s safe with these enhanced protocols in place to make sure the tournament doesn’t get cancelled at any point during the eight weeks we’re together.
“We will have to test even more regularly that we did in the autumn. We’re going from once-a-week testing to twice-a-week and that’s something the tournament have insisted on.
“Whenever we travel, we’ll have to test within 72 hours of the game. We’ve also got a really good set up at Oriam where we can be the only people in our area of the hotel, with our training facility just 200 yards away.”
Townsend has named four uncapped players among his 35-man squad – including a surprise call-up for former England Under-20 centre Cameron Redpath.
The Bath back – son of former Scotland captain Bryan – was expected to join up with Jones’ Red Rose outfit but has instead opted to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“It was Cam’s decision – he came to it on his own,” Townsend said. “His dad captained Scotland but that’s not a factor. It’s what he feels is right for him.
“We did offer him the opportunity for him to come on board in the autumn – but he didn’t think it was the right time to commit to either country.
“But he’s now in a position where he has made the decision and we’re delighted.
“He’s already an excellent player and we have high hopes for what he can do on that next level of playing international rugby.”
Stand-off Finn Russell returns from the injury that saw him sit out the Autumn Nations Cup. Adam Hastings – who was hurt in the same clash with Wales as Russell – is left out for the moment but could return later in the competition.
However, front-line hookers Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally have both been ruled out of the championship, meaning new call-ups David Cherry of Edinburgh and Sale’s Ewan Ashman could feature.
Townsend – who has also selected Gloucester lock Alex Craig for the first time – said: “It’s likely Stuart will miss the whole of the championship, which is obviously a blow on the back of Fraser’s injury which could keep him out of the whole championship too.
“But it’s an opportunity for the other hookers in the squad.
“George Turner has been part of our last few campaign and played really well in the autumn. Dave Cherry, Ewen Ashman and Grant Stewart have been in to train with us and this is now an opportunity for them.”