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French government intervention threatens next weekend's Champions and Challenge Cup matches

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Media reports in France are speculating that French clubs could pull out of the remaining two rounds of this month’s Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup due to ongoing concerns over the spread of the pandemic. There was acrimony last month regarding some fixtures involving French teams.


Toulon opted not to play their Champions Cup game at Scarlets despite flying to Wales due to health and safety concerns, while Bayonne have not played since experience positive tests after they hosted Leicester in the Challenge Cup.

There were reports earlier this week that Bayonne would be pulling out of their remaining European matches while Top 14 presidents voiced a French show of support to tackle how Toulon were treated by EPCR, the governing body of the European tournaments, after their Champions Cup farce in Wales. Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad also called for a boycott.

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EPCR moved to assure the safety of all players and staff, issuing a medical advisory group statement and then proceeding with the announcement of all the referees for the upcoming round three and four games.

However, their intention to proceed as planned could be taken from them if the French government take action against cross-border travel. A meeting was held on Thursday between the Ministry of Sports, Health and representatives of French professional clubs on the European Cup.

No decision has yet emerged but it is believed there is much anger that eight Bayonne players tested positive following the pre-Christmas game against Leicester. EPCR reacted by stating their updated protocols would now more closely follow the measures which the Ligue Nationale de Rugby uses, but there is no guarantee at the moment this will be enough to convince French sides to play their cross-border games next weekend.

As it stands, it is said those involved in Thursday’s meeting have given themselves a period of reflection to further assess the evolving situation, but Midi Olympique have suggested there is every possibility that an announcement to not fulfil the fixtures for the weekends of January 15 and 22 will be confirmed in the next day or two.


That would create a major headache for European rugby officials who already had to revamp this year’s tournament to try and fit it into an already packed calendar. Rather than six rounds of pool matches, this was reduced to four this winter.

Midi added that French club officials will want the matter resolved as quickly as possible as the Top 14 would likely look to being forward league fixtures to ensure there is rugby to be played on the two weekends that would be left blank by a European cancellation. They have already lost one game this weekend, La Rochelle versus Racing getting postponed on Friday.


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