European rugby bosses have altered Champions Cup rules to allow Northampton to sign Gloucester’s Alex Seville and plug their loosehead prop injury gap. Saints were heading to Exeter for Sunday’s quarter-final with rookie teenager Manny Iyogun as their only fit loosehead, with four frontline specialists all out injured.

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Saints are missing Francois van Wyk, Alex Waller, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi and Nick Auterac, and feared being forced into uncontested scrums or major safety concerns. But now the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) board have voted for a permanent rule change, allowing Saints to bring in Seville in time for their Sandy Park trip.

“The EPCR board has unanimously agreed to a change in the tournament rules which permits the registration of front row players after the September 1 deadline,” read an EPCR statement.

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The Rugby Pod react to the red-carded tackle that sees Owen Farrell miss this weekend’s Saracens versus Leinster game in Dublin

“Northampton Saints have registered Alex Seville for the remainder of the Heineken Champions Cup season and Dragons have registered Conor Maguire for the European Rugby Challenge Cup campaign. Both are eligible to play in this weekend’s quarter-finals.”

This European rule shift will doubtless be met with relief by both Northampton and Exeter.

As late as Wednesday afternoon Saints were still sweating on a decision, with rugby director Chris Boyd explaining: “Francois Van Wyk was our only fit loosehead (before last weekend), and Manny Iyogun would be the only (other) person in our club who could play at loosehead.

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“That concerned us because Manny is a 19-year-old boy who played all his football at No8 and had never really played in a men’s scrum before. We approached EPCR about our plight, then the problem got significantly worse because Francois was injured on Sunday (against Leicester and was replaced by Iyogun) and is probably out for eight to 12 weeks.

“We now faced a situation where we have a youngster with zero experience, so we went back to EPCR and pleaded our case again. You eliminate people who can’t come into the country because of Covid restrictions around isolation, and visa applications which can’t be done in time, and the pool of players we could potentially get is pretty small anyway.”

Following the ruling, Northampton CEO Mark Darbon said: “We are pleased that EPCR have adopted a sensible approach in today’s ruling. Given the length of time it took for this decision to be made, and the challenge of bringing in new players at this stage of the season, especially with all of the Covid-19 related measures in place, we would like to thank Gloucester who have agreed to loan us their 22-year old loosehead prop on a short-term basis until the end of September.

“Alex will join up with the squad on Friday and will be available for our European Champions Cup quarter-final match on Sunday. We are also grateful to Exeter Chiefs for the pragmatism they have shown in supporting today’s decision.”

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