Premiership Rugby have confirmed that 21 positive tests for Covid-19 on Thursday affected three clubs – including Sale and Northampton – heading into the final weekend of the regular-season action in the Gallagher Premiership. 

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The Sale match at home to Worcester has been postponed until next Wednesday, pending further testing of the Manchester club’s players and staff before the rescheduled date, while Northampton’s trip to Gloucester has been cancelled, resulting in the awarding of a 20-0 bonus-point Premiership win to the Kingsholm side.

Northampton were forced to cancel rather than postpone as it was reported that all but two members of their front row have had to self-isolate due to their match against Sale last Tuesday. The walkover for Gloucester also dashed Worcester hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions Cup which they could have achieved had they beaten a depleted Sale and Gloucester lost to Northampton.

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Sale beat Northampton in round 21 at Franklin’s Gardens and it is that fixture that has now skewed the overall testing numbers in the Premiership. In the 15 rounds of Premiership-monitored testing between early July and September 22, there were only 66 positives among players and staff (43 players) from a whopping total of 14,560 tests, a tiny 0.45 per cent. 

Such was the belief that the virus wasn’t the threat it was initially believed to be that Exeter boss Rob Baxter even suggested earlier this week there were ‘genuine medical reasons’ to discontinue the routine weekly testing.

That, though, won’t now happen given how the closing round of fixtures for the 2019/20 regular season was plunged into chaos. The statement issued by the league read: “Premiership Rugby can today confirm that on Thursday, October 1, 972 players and club staff from Premiership clubs were tested as part of the PCR Covid-19 screening programme. 

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“Of those who were tested 21 people – from three different clubs – tested positive. Eighteen of those who tested positive were players and three members of staff. Those who tested positive and their close contacts are isolated and assessed in line with the PHE-agreed guidelines.

“Premiership Rugby and the RFU are providing this aggregated information for competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided under any circumstances. The number of positive results will be made public after each round of testing.”

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