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No plans to derail Heineken Champions Cup over new variant

By PA
(Photo by Rogan Thomson/INPHO via EPCR)

Heineken Champions Cup chiefs currently have no plans to postpone games on the tournament’s opening weekend, the PA news agency understands.

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Competition organisers European Professional Club Rugby continues to monitor the situation with Munster and Cardiff – and are in contact – after their hopes of returning home from South Africa were delayed following positive coronavirus tests.

The European Cup is due to kick off on December 10, with Cardiff hosting European champions Toulouse the following day and Munster visiting Wasps 24 hours later.

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Scarlets players and staff, meanwhile, are isolating at a Belfast hotel after arriving into Dublin from South Africa during the early hours of Monday.

The Scarlets are scheduled to begin their European campaign against Bristol at Ashton Gate on December 11.

Munster and Cardiff also face 10 days of hotel quarantine when they eventually arrive back.

They had hoped to join the Scarlets and Italian club Zebre Parma in leaving Cape Town on Sunday aboard a charter flight after South Africa was added to the UK Government’s travel red list.

But Munster then reported one case of Covid-19, while Cardiff also remained in Cape Town following two positive cases – one of which is suspected to be the new variant Omicron – with both groups having started a period of isolation.

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The United Rugby Championship had been scheduled to stage its first fixtures on South African soil over the weekend, but all four games were postponed.

Teams who are unable to fulfil European Cup fixtures face forfeiting the game under strict tournament rules.

Such a stance, though, drew criticism last season after a handful of coronavirus-related cancellations saw teams responsible handed 28-0 defeats.

An EPCR spokesperson said: “We are monitoring the situation and are in contact with the clubs.”

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Zebre became the first of the four touring sides to arrive home on Monday morning, and a URC statement later in the day read: “Having helped to repatriate two of our teams, the URC continues to support the two remaining teams in South Africa.

“There is a widespread network of stakeholders working vigorously to ensure the safe return of both Cardiff Rugby and Munster Rugby as soon as possible and keep them comfortable at this time.

“This has been an incredibly challenging period for everyone involved, most notably the players, staff and their families.”

Munster said their players and staff would undergo another round of PCR testing on Monday, with results expected on Tuesday, but Ireland’s sports minister Jack Chambers said the majority of the party are free to travel home after South Africa health authorities had given approval.

Head coach Johann van Graan told Munster’s website: “This has been a whirlwind of a time and we are very grateful to the people in the background who are helping us during this challenging period, and for all the best wishes we are receiving.

“We have one player in a different hotel who is doing as well as possible after receiving a positive PCR result, while the remainder of the group are isolating individually at the team hotel.

“Work is ongoing with all relevant authorities in securing our return to Ireland at a time when safe and appropriate, but for now our priority is to look after our players and staff.”

A Cardiff statement added: “We can confirm that all of last night’s PCR tests have returned negative results. We continue to work with all relevant authorities to secure our repatriation back to Wales.

“The two players who tested positive over the weekend continue to isolate away from the team hotel and remain in good health.”

The gap left by the postponement of this coming weekend’s cross-hemisphere fixtures has been filled by a pair of all-South Africa clashes, with the Sharks facing the Bulls on Friday and the Stormers tackling the Lions on Saturday.

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Shaylen 1 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

12 Go to comments
J
Jon 7 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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FEATURE Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink
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