Why Bath have issued EPCR with an ultimatum about game in France
Bath have confirmed they will only fulfil their Heineken Champions Cup fixture against La Rochelle on Saturday if French travel restrictions are eased. Director of rugby Stuart Hooper is still waiting for clarity from tournament organisers EPCR over when they can depart for the Stade Marcel Deflandre and what Covid safety procedures they will face.
The sticking point for English clubs visiting France in round three of European competition, a group that also includes Sale and Newcastle, is the requirement that they quarantine on arrival for 48 hours. If any personnel tests positive for coronavirus, they would be required to remain in self-isolation for ten days before returning home.
Hooper is adamant that Bath will not risk the possibility of players or staff being left behind after the Champions Cup match, mindful of the United Rugby Championship experience endured by Cardiff, Munster and the Scarlets when they were stuck in South Africa when the Omicron variant first emerged in November.
“For us, it’s more about the testing in-country. If you have to isolate for 48 hours it’s because you have to test out of it, or stay isolating for ten days,” Hooper said. “That is absolutely not a condition by which we would travel to France, as you can be stuck there.
“It’s really important you don’t look too far ahead but at the same time, you also have to understand what it would mean for the players who might get stuck in France. We don’t know what that would look like yet.
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“If we all travel over together and someone tests positive, are we all close contacts? Are we then all in a hotel with 40 people together for ten days? That is a hurdle that definitely needs to be got over very quickly. You have seen how that has been a problem for other teams in other competitions. That is a big part of the discussions with EPCR. We still don’t have absolute clarity on what we have to do. We hope to hear very soon about what’s required. I know EPCR are working hard on it.”
Bath want to fly out on Friday and return on Saturday evening, but this plan is only possible if Ligue Nationale de Rugby, which is negotiating with the French government on behalf of EPCR, is successful in securing modified quarantine rules. “It is hoped that the matches in rounds three and four will be played in more favourable conditions and EPCR expects an update on the situation shortly,” an EPCR statement read.
Hooper expects travel arrangements for the round three fixture to go down to the wire as the group phase of the two European competitions continue to be shrouded in uncertainty. Toulouse, Racing 92 and Stade Francais all travel to face British opposition this weekend, but the capacity to quarantine in their own country removes a complication faced by UK teams heading in the opposite direction.
Bristol host Stade on Saturday in what will be their first outing of the competition after losing their round one and two fixtures, but director of rugby Pat Lam is still sceptical over whether it will happen. “We are told it is going ahead and we have prepared for it to go ahead, but one thing I know about Covid is that you can’t 100 per cent guarantee anything,” Lam said.
“I said to the boys ‘be prepared’, but until I see them at the ground, that is when I will know the game is going ahead. We were pushing last week to get an answer because to run a game costs a lot of money, you have got to order hospitality on Monday. It would be over £200,000 if the game didn’t go ahead.”
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