European rugby’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup are both SUSPENDED after French government BAN their clubs from playing abroad in the UK and Ireland over coronavirus fears
- The European Cup will be immediately suspended due to coronavirus fears
- The French government banned teams from playing abroad in UK and Ireland
- The final two pool rounds were due to be played this weekend and next
- The upcoming men’s Six Nations tournament remains unaffected for now
The European Cup will be immediately suspended after the French government banned their clubs from playing teams from the UK and Ireland over Covid fears.
Both the Champions and Challenge Cups will now be paused until at least the Spring – which will have a profound knock-on effect on rugby’s domestic leagues.
The final two pool rounds were due to be played this weekend and next, but organisers have confirmed they are off.
The European Cup will be immediately suspended after the French government banned their clubs from playing teams from the UK and Ireland over Covid fears
Both the Champions and Challenge Cups will now be paused until at least the Spring
In a statement tournament bosses EPCR said: ‘Following a directive from the French authorities that the participation of TOP 14 clubs in the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup at the current time constitutes too great a public health risk, EPCR has no choice but to announce today (Monday) that the 2020/21 tournaments are temporarily suspended.
‘EPCR and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) took part in a meeting by audio conference last week with representatives of the French ministries of the Interior, Health and Sport, as well as of the President’s office.
‘Notable updates to EPCR’s COVID-19 protocols were presented to the French authorities, including the addition of PCR tests no earlier than three days before matches in the tournaments, conforming to French government guidelines and supplementing the existing, meticulous contact tracing measures put in place with a view to limiting the risk of transmission.
‘Against the backdrop of the recent detection of a new strain of coronavirus, the French government has directed that French clubs postpone their participation in EPCR’s tournaments for the month of January, both for matches scheduled in France and for those due to be played in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
‘On the basis of this directive, EPCR had no choice but to temporarily suspend the pool stage of the Heineken Champions Cup and the preliminary stage of the Challenge Cup.
The final two pool rounds were due to be played this weekend and next, but are now off
‘While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, and prioritising the health and welfare of players and club staff, EPCR, in conjunction with its shareholder leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to resume and complete the tournaments as soon as practicable.’
According to reports across the Channel the French Sports Ministry blocked the games from happening, worried about a spread of what they are referring to as the ‘English’ strain of the virus.
In a letter to the clubs they wrote: ‘I confirm that the government is asking French professional rugby clubs to postpone their participation in European Cup matches until early February 2021, both for matches organized in France and those taking place in British and Irish soil.’
Now the English Premiership and Pro 14 leagues must decide how to fill the gap left by this postponement.
The Top 14 have moved quickly to fill the gap and have said they will play four games this weekend that were previously postponed due to Covid positives.
The English Premiership, French Top 14 and Pro 14 leagues must decide how to fill the gap
In England many clubs are keen for the league to bring forward its next two rounds of fixtures – scheduled originally for 29, 30 and 31 January.
At Wasps their boss Lee Blackett said: ‘I’ve had players messaging me over the weekend wanting to know what’s going on. Players are not just texting to see if they can make some plan or have a holiday or something, they genuinely want to play, and if we don’t play, genuinely our players will be gutted.
‘Some guys have come back from internationals had a couple of weeks off, so we can talk about those guys there, they’re desperate to carry on playing. It’s easier with the form we’re in and everyone wants to carry on.
‘But I think at this moment in time, with everything that is going on in the world, our players feel really lucky to be doing what they’re doing. These guys are in a really lucky position. They know that, and they’re desperate to keep doing it.
‘We’re very much on a roll at the moment and feel with our internationals here we want to take as much advantage as possible before they go to the Six Nations.
The upcoming men’s Six Nations tournament remains unaffected for now amid covid fears
‘I think a lot of other clubs will be like that.
‘Also as a supporter, surely you want to see Premiership sides putting international players out? If we do go back to the Premiership, which I hope we do, I think it’s in the game’s best interests.’
In the Pro14 and Top14 the expectation is also that league rounds will be shifted forward, with derby games a priority in the former competition.
So far the men’s Six Nations is unaffected.
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