18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
Representatives from the six Unions were present at the meeting which was chaired by Welshman Allan Hosie, and although the decision for change was carried my a majority vote, the WRU opposed the notion.
A statement issued read,
The Six Nations' Committee met today (Wednesday) in Paris to consider the future structure of the Northern Hemisphere season, and in particular the timing and duration of the annual Six Nations' Championship.
The discussion followed proposals to compress the length of the Championship from its traditional ten-week duration, in order to allow national teams to benefit from training and playing together in a less disrupted schedule. Of central importance in the debate were the views of the six Unions and their commercial partners.
The meeting received reports from the each of the six Unions' representatives following further consideration of extensive third party research. This included a polling report from MORI which attempted to ascertain the likely response of spectators, television viewers and businesses towards a possible compression.
Six Nations' Committee Chairman, Allan Hosie, said, "The Committee was acutely aware of the challenge of making any significant change to the format of the world's most successful annual competition, and great concern was expressed as to the implications for rugby supporters."
After lengthy debate, a majority voted in favour of shortening the Championship to seven weeks in length, with matches taking place in the first, second, fourth, sixth and seventh weekends. Players for national squads will, at the discretion of the Unions, be available for the seven week duration of the tournament.
The Welsh Rugby Union's representatives brought from their Union a mandate to vote against change, based on a deep-seated concern for supporters. Mr Hosie commented, "Everyone around the table respected the sincerity and strength of the WRU's views, and we will be doing everything we can to ensure that the Six Nations Championship remains a festival of rugby which is accessible to the widest possible audience."
From the 2003 season onwards, the tournament will take place in the seven weeks concluding with the last weekend in March. In years such as 2005 and 2008, when Easter falls in March, an appropriate adjustment will be made to avoid a clash with the Easter weekend.
The schedule of match weekends for the 2003 season will be,