Rugby's European club competitions facing suspension as urgent Six Nations meeting planned
Rugby’s premier European club competitions look set to be suspended amid concerns over the new strain of Covid-19 in the UK.
Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors are both due to be in action along with the other 22 clubs in the Champions Cup pool stages on the weekends of January 15/16 and 22/23 while full fixture cards in the Challenge Cup were also slated for those weekends, but with French authorities anxious to avoid any new public health risk and possible contamination, the matches look unlikely to take place this month.
Glasgow are due to travel to France next weekend to take on Lyon while Edinburgh are scheduled to face La Rochelle away on January 23.
Last week Bayonne refused to fulfil their Challenge Cup fixtures against Leicester and Zebre after an outbreak of the coronavirus variant VOC 202012/01 in their squad.
The Basque side issued a statement confirming that some of the club's players had tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus and that cases in the squad had increased following their home game against Leicester on December 19.
Bayonne's Top 14 clash with Castres on December 26 was postponed following a number of positive tests on the morning of the game while two additional positive tests on December 31 were found to be the new “UK strain" of the virus.
It was reported earlier this week that the French clubs were unhappy with the testing protocols in place at Pro 14 and English Premiership clubs. Talks are expected to take place next week between France's Sport Ministry and a number of sport federations and event organisers to discuss concerns over travel to the British Isles or clubs from the UK travelling to France.
Glasgow have already had to forfeit their home match against Lyon in the Champions Cup due to a coronavirus-related situation. Twenty Warriors players had to isolate after a Covid-19 outbreak at Exeter Chiefs, who the Warriors had faced the previous week. It meant the Scotstoun side were unable to raise a team to play Lyon, who were awarded a 28-0 victory.
The future of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup has been discussed at length in recent days, with bodies including France’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Sports, National Rugby League chiefs and the EPCR, which manages European competitions.
The French government is keen to avoid a repeat of the Bayonne situation and despite new procedures modelled on the Top 14 protocol, with PCR tests carried out three days before matches, health ministers are not comfortable with the competitions proceeding as planned and with French clubs unable to travel to or stay in the UK the ECPR has taken the decision to shelve the next two rounds of pool matches.
A meeting to discuss the 2021 Six Nations tournament is due to take place early next week. Italy and France are due to contest the first match of the competition in Rome on February 6 and while the Six Nations committee and World Rugby are understood to be reasonably confident that the event will proceed as planned, there is understandably a degree of uncertainty given the fate of the European club competitions.
Next week’s meeting could shed some light on the competition's chances of going ahead as normal.
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