European rugby tournaments plunged into doubt by new Covid variant fears


This season’s European Champions Cup is under threat of suspension amid growing fears in France over the potential spread of the new Covid-19 variant, with a decision expected either later on Friday or Saturday.

Following talks between the competition organisers, EPCR, and the French government on Thursday, considerable doubt has been cast on both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup. There are two rounds of both competitions scheduled for later this month, but depending on the French government’s imminent decision those fixtures could be postponed.

There is little room in the calendar for the games to be replayed, placing the entire tournaments in jeopardy, though it is understood the matches would be postponed, initially, rather than cancelled. While the Six Nations are hopeful that cross-border Test matches can take place next month – assisted by biosecure bubbles for national squads – organisers will be monitoring the French government’s decision closely.

Earlier this week it emerged that the Top 14 clubs were unhappy with the testing protocols in place at the Premiership and Pro14 clubs. It was subsequently agreed by both those leagues that players would be tested three days before matches – in line with the Top 14 clubs – and EPCR presented those changes to the French government at Thursday’s meeting. The major issue however, is the more transmittable variant of Covid-19 which is prevalent in the UK.

“EPCR and the LNR [Ligue Nationale de Rugby] have participated in a meeting on Thursday afternoon with members of the French government,” read an EPCR statement. “The objective was to present the revised Covid-19 protocols for rounds three and four of the 2020-21 Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup.

“Notable updates to the protocols include the addition of matchday minus three testing, conforming to the new directives of the French government. These changes supplement the existing, meticulous contact tracing with all measures put in place with a view to limiting the risk of transmission and allowing the tournaments to continue in the context of the strong evolution of a new variant of coronavirus. EPCR expects to receive a decision from the authorities in the next 48 hours.”

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