The RFU have confirmed Steve Diamond’s Tuesday morning revelation that Sale have been exonerated following an investigation by England Rugby HQ into the coronavirus outbreak which threw the finale of the Gallagher Premiership’s regular-season into chaos. 

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Sale’s virus outbreak ultimately affected 27 players and staff and resulted in the cancellation of the home match with Worcester amid allegation that had gone out partying following their Premiership Cup final win over Harlequins the previous month.  

Diamond said on Tuesday ahead of the report’s publication: “Quite rightly we were cleared by the RFU. The judgment isn’t out until this afternoon but that appears to be the decision. 

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“I’m philosophical about it really. Obviously, we had a mass outbreak so they have got to have a look at it. I’m just a bit disappointed with rugby in general really over the event where Pat Lam, Ugo Moyne, Alan Solomons all jumped in on these false allegations that we were partying in the inner city and the student areas of Manchester, which was a real poor thing to say with no evidence and was factually incorrect.”

Now the RFU have delivered its report into its investigation, confirming that none of the alleged partying has taken place. “The RFU review and the independent compliance audit of Sale Sharks in relation to the events surrounding the Premiership Cup final of September 21 have concluded,” read their statement. 

“It is accepted that most, if not all, of the Sale Sharks’ squad returned to their training ground at Carrington following the match. They were joined by members of the club who had been specifically PCR tested in order to attend. The nature of the event was to celebrate the cup final win and the passing of a long-serving staff member.

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“No evidence has been found to show that any player or member of club staff left the Carrington training ground and went to any other venue apart from their home. Currently, there are no grounds for any charges, either under RFU rule 5.12 or the Covid disciplinary framework, against Sale Sharks or any individual associated with Sale Sharks in relation to events around the Premiership Cup final.

“The independent compliance audit of Sale Sharks was conducted by Healthwork Ltd, a specialist provider who advised on Covid compliance across sport. Recommendations were made which have been approved by the PGB for implementation ahead of the 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership season.

“The recommendations to reduce risk and protect the welfare of players and staff include full compliance of the Covid minimum operating standards with specific references to mandatory use of a rugby squad medical app for the screening of all players and staff, prompt access to GPS data for use in any required contact tracing process, full availability of training footage for use in any required contact tracing process, and a formal process for the notification of players who are impacted by positive Covid tests.

“While identification of the source of the Covid outbreak is outside of the scope of the review and audit, it should be noted that neither Public Health England, Sale Sharks or the RFU have been able to confidently determine how Covid was first introduced into the environment. It occurred at a time when the local area was seeing a huge rise in the number of Covid cases within the community and it is thought most likely that the source of the infection was outside of the club environment.”

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Dr Simon Kemp, the RFU’s medical services director, added: “The minimum operating standards have been agreed to ensure that professional rugby has been able to return. While PCR testing is taking place on a weekly basis, it is critical not to forget the importance of maintaining social distancing, at all times when not training or playing. 

“This, together with the wearing of masks and good hand hygiene will help both reduce the risk of transmission and the number of potential close contacts requiring to isolate should any positive cases arise.”

Ahead of the new season, PGB have agreed to appoint two new roles to support the delivery of Covid minimum operating standards – one to oversee the video analysis element of contact tracing process and one to provide support for clubs around compliance with the minimum operating standards.

These new roles will help to educate players and clubs and improve the contact tracing and outbreak investigation processes. The RFU statement concluded: “The RFU governance standing committee has approved changes to the Premiership regulations to give the PGB, after consultation with their medical advisory group or testing oversight group, the ability to recommend to PRL that a match is cancelled based on the best interests of all participants.

“The final decision will rest with the PRL panel. Any decision will be made on a case-by-case basis and will not be determined by any specific number of positive Covid-19 tests.”

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