England’s match against the Barbarians on Sunday has been cancelled due to a breach in coronavirus protocols by Barbarians players, the Rugby Football Union has announced.

ADVERTISEMENT

Seasoned veterans Chris Robshaw, Richard Wigglesworth and Sean Maitland were among a contingent of twelve who left the team hotel in central London on Wednesday night in order to have dinner.

The Barbarians were scrambling to fill the gaps in their squad before a deadline of 3pm set by the RFU, who are investigating the breach with a view to summoning any transgressors before an independent disciplinary hearing.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer
Dylan Hartley revisits his infamous 2013 Premiership final red card

And after learning there was an additional breach of protocol on top of the incident already known, the governing body said it had no choice but to cancel the match, which was due to be played at Twickenham.

“As part of its ongoing investigation into a breach of the Covid code of conduct that took place on October 21, the RFU has discovered there was an earlier undisclosed breach that took place on October 20 when a number of Barbarians players left the hotel bubble without permission and without informing organisers about their whereabouts,” an RFU statement read.

“The RFU has concluded that the players leaving their Covid-secure environment on October 20 without then isolating from the rest of the group on their return has resulted in the bubble environment being compromised, with the potential risk of Covid transmission from individuals outside the bubble to everyone in the Barbarians team and management. The RFU is therefore left with no alternative but to cancel the game.”

ADVERTISEMENT

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney expressed his frustration at the Barbarians players whose conduct had resulted in the cancellation of England’s autumn curtain-raiser. “We are incredibly disappointed to be calling a halt to this fixture, we know how much fans were looking forward to seeing the teams play,” Sweeney said.

“However, our priority is to protect the health and safety of the England squad and the other international teams they will go up against this autumn. 

“There has been a great deal of effort put into Covid codes of conduct and planning for games, including cooperation with Premiership clubs to release additional players to fulfil the fixture safely, and we are all incredibly frustrated and disappointed that the actions of a number of Barbarians players mean we no longer feel it is safe for the game to go ahead.”

Robshaw apologised on Twitter for his role in the postponement, writing: “I want to express my deepest apologies to @Barbarian_FC @EnglandRugby and the rugby family for letting you down this week”

ADVERTISEMENT

The attached statement read: “I want to express my deepest apologies for breaching the Barbarians Covid-19 restrictions by leaving the hotel post-training with some of my teammates.

“A huge effort went into conducting this match in a safe fashion and it was irresponsible of me to break the protocols which are put in place to protect players, staff and the public.

“I understand that my actions have ultimately contributed to the cancellation of Sunday’s match and I am sincerely remorseful for my role in undoing all the amazing work that went into trying to make it happen. I promise that I will learn from this mistake and ensure something like this never happens again.”

Wigglesworth, who has recently left Saracens, joined Robshaw in issuing an apology. “Embarrassed and beyond gutted to have let Vern Cotter and everyone @Barbarian_FC down as well as the RFU. Should not have happened and for that I am truly sorry,” he tweeted.

“I’ve let a lot of people down including myself and wish I’d done it differently. Sorry again.”

Saracens said they were “extremely disappointed”, adding that their players who were involved had “fallen well short of the high professional standards that are expected at Saracens”.

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now