Sale Sharks have described their inability to host Worcester in Manchester due to further positive Covid tests as a devastating way to end their Gallagher Premiership title challenge, but the club have accepted that health and safety of people must come first.

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The fixture was originally slated to take place last Sunday but was postponed to Wednesday after it emerged that Sale had suffered an outbreak of coronavirus that affected 16 players and three staff members. They claimed at the time could still field a healthy matchday 23, a statement that resulted in the rescheduling of the match rather than it being cancelled and the points awarded to Worcester.

However, following the Covid testing on Tuesday of the matchday 23 for Wednesday and staff, a further eight tests were confirmed (six Sale players and two staff) resulting in the cancellation of the match. That ruled Sale out of the semi-final race, allowing Bath to face Exeter and Bristol travel to Wasps next Saturday.

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The RugbyPod examines the Covid outbreak at Sale

A statement from Sale, which includes the discrepancy that only five more players tested positive, read: “Following testing yesterday (Tuesday), a further seven positive tests (five players and two rugby staff) have been reported and therefore it is not safe to play. Sale have worked closely with Premiership Rugby, Public Health England and Public Health North West, the RFU and Worcester Warriors and would like to thank all parties for their contribution during this challenging period.

“This is devastating for Sale, the players and staff with Covid-19 denying the club the chance to challenge for the Premiership title at the final hurdle. Sale and all involved with the club are determined to come back stronger than ever in time for next season. The owners are very proud of, and grateful to, the players and staff for the effort that has been demonstrated throughout the protracted season and particularly over this past week.

“Sale would like to thank all its supporters for wishing the club’s players and staff a speedy recovery during these difficult circumstances. They would like to reassure those well-wishers that no-one who has been infected has any serious health concerns at present. 

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“The club will continue to ensure that everybody is closely monitored and supported over the coming weeks. Although everyone at Sale is disappointed to see our campaign end in this manner, the club wholly understands that the welfare of players, staff and officials is the most important factor. 

“Throughout the last six months, we have followed the official guidelines and protocols given to us by the RFU and Premiership Rugby, with rigorous testing regimes and safety measures in place to protect everyone connected to the game. Sale are confident the audit carried out by the RFU over the past few days will confirm this absolutely.

“Reports over the weekend suggesting our players acted irresponsibly by partying and socialising throughout Manchester after our Premiership Rugby Cup victory are completely inaccurate and untrue.

“Health and safety have always been our top priority throughout the return of professional rugby in England and we have an important role to play in supporting the Premiership Rugby players that have tested positive for this terrible virus.”

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