When the Principality Stadium was packed out for Wales’ four Autumn Internationals in October and November, there was optimism that the days of empty stands were a thing of the past.
Fast forward just six weeks and Welsh rugby is faced with uncertainty once again with the lingering possibility of fixtures against Scotland, France and Italy being played in an empty stadium.
Players, fans and the Welsh Rugby Union are desperate to not see a repeat of the 2021 championship, in which Wales triumphed - but without a single fan present.
While uncertainty remains the only certainty at the moment, a number of alternative options have surfaced.
Where we stand at the moment
Welsh sporting fixtures have been played behind closed doors since the Welsh Government introduced tier two restrictions on Boxing Day.
While restrictions will be reviewed prior to the start of the Six Nations, Wales’ first home fixture against Scotland on Saturday, February 12 is just 38 days away.
The Welsh Government’s next coronavirus review is scheduled for Friday, January 7, but with cases of Covid hitting record highs in Wales, and public services coming under increasing pressure, there’s no guarantee Wales will return to pre-Christmas situation within the next month.
Speaking to BBC Radio Wales on Sunday, January 2, First Minister Mark Drakeford said this wave is expected to peak “towards the end of the month” with a “relatively rapid decline as it goes through Wales and out the other side."
Postponing Six Nations 'not an option'
Wales is not alone in facing an uncertain sporting calendar. Under current guidelines, 500 people are allowed to attend outdoor sports events in Scotland, while the Irish and French governments capped crowds at 5,000.
It is understood that contingency plans are being drawn up to play matches behind closed doors, with tournament organisers said to have ruled out the option of postponing the start of the tournament.
The WRU would take a massive hit if games were to be played behind closed doors.
The WRU’s lost revenue for its two home fixtures against England and Ireland last year totalled around £14million. With Wales’ community dependant on top-down funding, a repeat this year has been described as ‘catastrophic’ by sources in the WRU.
Games in England?
Due to the possible losses of income, it is understood the WRU is exploring the option of moving its home games to England, where sports events are currently being played in front of capacity crowds.
Wales temporarily played home matches at Wembley Stadium in the 1990s when the then Millennium Stadium was being built in Cardiff.
The tournament’s governing body is expected to hold a series of calls with unions and national governments this week to try and determine what the likelihood is of restrictions easing before February 5, when the tournament kicks off.
On Wednesday, a Welsh Government spokesperson told ITV Wales: “As a result of the rapidly spreading omicron variant, Wales is currently at alert level two.
"The Cabinet is reviewing the situation on a weekly basis.”