The Gallagher Premiership has reached a total of 96 per cent of players vaccinated against Covid-19, with the figure rising to 97 per cent when management and staff across the league’s 13 clubs are included.
With 1,260 players and staff engaged in the Premiership’s regular testing regime, the figures – which are for the initial two doses of vaccine plus a two-week lag – point to around 38 people who have yet to receive a jab. The reasons are not disclosed, but they could be medical exemptions, or a delay after having Covid, or personal preference.

The Premiership’s numbers are higher than the most recent ones released by football’s Premier League, who said on 20 December that 84 per cent of players were “on the vaccination journey” – believed to mean having had at least one dose.

An intriguing question with rugby’s Six Nations Championship starting in four weeks’ time is whether England will consider unvaccinated players to be a risk not worth taking.

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The Rugby Football Union have not commented on the subject, but they are bound to be keen to avoid any unnecessary threat to England’s financially lucrative home matches against Wales and Ireland, both of which are set for 82,000-sellouts at Twickenham.

A small Covid outbreak affected the England men’s squad during the autumn internationals in November, when two members of the support staff tested positive, followed by props Joe Marler and Ellis Genge who had to self-isolate.

Last summer, the match between England A and Scotland A at Leicester was cancelled after multiple cases in the Scottish camp. Three club games have been called off this season after cases at Saracens, Bath and Sale.

All England’s players are drawn from the Premiership, and none of them has publicly stated a refusal to be jabbed. The Exeter centre Henry Slade last year backtracked on an initial statement that he would not take a vaccine, while continuing to express his wariness over possible adverse effects.

One possibility for the Six Nations is for England’s head coach Eddie Jones to call up a larger number of players than normal when he announces his squad on 18 January, to help cover for Covid withdrawals, although this would need to be agreed by the Premiership clubs.

The medics working with the England team are due back from leave in the next few days, and will discuss the Covid situation with Jones and his coaches ahead of the opening fixture against Scotland in Edinburgh on 5 February. The likely judgements to be made are how much greater risk, if any, is associated with unvaccinated players – both to themselves and to others.

Another factor is England’s trip to play France in March, with reports that the French government may demand all visiting sportspeople possess a vaccination passport.

The ever-changing picture is illustrated by the Premiership last week reversing some of the easing of restrictions that had been made when the league hit an 85 per cent vaccination target in November.

The surge of the Omicron variant and increased infection rates prompted England’s Professional Game Board to issue updated guidance to clubs on a range of additional safety measures including increased testing, use of face coverings indoors at all times, minimising indoor meetings and enhanced social distancing and ventilation.