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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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Guess the celebrity Rose | Adebayo Akinfenwa | England Rugby
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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