Referee Wayne Barnes has withdrawn from Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final between Exeter and Wasps after testing positive for coronavirus. Premiership Rugby have named Craig Maxwell-Keys as his replacement on Friday morning, with Barnes missing out on overseeing his tenth league showpiece at Twickenham.

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“Sadly I’ll be out of action this weekend as my weekly routine coronavirus test came back positive so I’m now isolating,” Barnes said on social media. “Gutted to miss the @premrugby final but wish @ExeterChiefs, @WaspsRugby & all match officials involved the best of luck for a great day.”

The absence of Barnes and the parachuting in of Maxwell-Keys to referee his first Premiership final was the latest coronavirus twist in a hectic week affecting the English club final and this Sunday’s England vs Barbarians meeting at Twickenham. 

The identity of Exeter’s opponents in the English league final was in doubt until the results emerged from the latest round of Covid testing. Wasps had failed tests in the previous two rounds and that left third place Bristol on standby to take their place in the final. 

However, Wasps got the all-clear at around 2.30am on Wednesday morning but even with that, they will be missing eleven players for the final, five who have tested positive for the virus and another six who were deemed close contacts. Of their last four matchdays 23s, four players who were regularly selected will be missing for the final.

“We have got 33 players to pick from,” said Wasps coach Blackett at his pre-final media conference. “We had five players test positive overall but they have taken down some other players in terms of their contact time.”

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While the Premiership final will go ahead, there is ongoing uncertainty about the status of the Barbarians match with England after upwards of a dozen players in their squad breached their safety bubble by going out in London to an unsanctioned dinner on Wednesday night. A decision on the fixture will be taken at 3pm on Friday.

An RFU statement on Thursday evening read: “The players leaving their Covid-secure environment has resulted in a potential risk of Covid transmission from individuals outside the bubble, and even with a further round of PCR testing for this group it will not be possible to guarantee that these players are not infectious in the period up to and including the match.”

     

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