A critical Gallagher Premiership clash is under threat of being cancelled after 16 Sale players tested positive for Covid-19. The decisive final round of regular season fixtures on Sunday in England has been thrown into chaos by the spread of coronavirus through the Sharks, with a small number of backroom staff also allegedly testing positive.

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The fallout, which might see Sale’s game at home to Worcester called off, could also affect Northampton’s trip to Gloucester after Saints played Sale at Franklin’s Gardens on Tuesday evening. Four teams – Bath, Wasps, Sale and Bristol – are all battling to fill the three remaining qualification places behind the already-qualified Exeter. 

However, speculation that was something was amiss heading into Super Sunday ignited on Friday when all twelve team announcements for the weekend were unusually delayed until Saturday noon – teams are usually announced after 12 noon on Friday. A source, who knew of a number of players that had been told they can’t play on Sunday, told RugbyPass: “There is an outbreak at a top-four club that will seriously impact on the last round of games.”

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It is since strongly believed that Sale are the club in question and the game-threatening Covid-19 situation is in stark contrast to Steve Diamond’s upbeat mood during a Thursday lunchtime Zoom call ahead of their clash with Worcester. Asked during that session by RugbyPass to reflect on how the league had fared since the restart in managing the effects of the pandemic, Diamond said: “All credit has to go, certainly in our league, to Premier Rugby. 

“All the games have been completed apart from this last round… they have done a great job, the league, in getting it on. All the protocols we are going through and everything, it’s been a peculiar time. It will be remembered for all of us who have been through this as one of those years where for the next 20, 30 years we will be talking about, do you remember the Covid for all the wrong reasons? 

“Fortunately, I have not had anybody close to me who has been poorly with it but you can see what’s happening around the country and the rate of infections going up. We have to keep doing this [precautions] until it’s right to stop it.”

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Diamond will now have a very different perspective if the huge number of alleged positive cases at Sale is confirmed. There has as yet been no confirmation on the matter from Premiership Rugby. Their only statement so far read: “Following the recent set of midweek matches, we have decided to postpone all team announcements for Gallagher Premiership Rugby round 22 until noon on Saturday.”

– RugbyPass with additional reporting from PA

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