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'The uncertainty created quite a bit of angst for a lot of people'

By Liam Heagney

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Dean Richards has given an insight into the anxiety that this week’s uncertainty over this Friday’s Challenge Cup match at Biarritz caused for the Newcastle players and staff. The Falcons are the first of the four UK clubs in action in France this weekend but it wasn’t until Thursday morning that they learned that the concerning travel restrictions across the Channel would be lifted.

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Current French regulations had stated that teams would have to quarantine in France for 48 hours before their game and would also have to PCR test, creating fears that anyone who tests positive would be left stranded abroad for ten days.  

Newcastle insisted they would not be travelling on Wednesday to comply with the 48-hour rule and it emerged on Thursday that the regulations would be changing on Friday morning in time for the match.

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Travellers from the UK who are fully vaccinated will now be allowed to enter France if they have evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken within 24 hours of departure, while a requirement to isolate on arrival will be scrapped.  

That has cleared the way for Newcastle to fly out on Friday morning, but Richards was still awaiting written confirmation that the regulations would definitely be changing when he addressed the media at lunchtime on Thursday.  

“We found out not so long ago (about the changes) but we are still waiting for confirmation and until you see it in black and white you are never sure but (we heard) just in the last few hours, to be honest with you… I am confident that the LNR is working closely with the French Government to make sure that it happens in a way that we can get there and back with as little fuss as possible and safely as well. 

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“The relaxation of the rules is being brought in Friday by the French Government and I welcome that entirely. It does mean we will be able to travel tomorrow a little bit easier than what we would have done before where we would have had to isolate for 48 hours and then test and run the risk of having to isolate further in France. That isn’t the case now.”

Richards was critical last weekend about the lack of clarity last surrounding travel for UK clubs to France, but the Newcastle boss has since mellowed. “You can sit down and moan about things, pick fault with things, but I don’t really want to do that. I just want to get on the flight tomorrow and play the game,” he said, adding that Newcastle wouldn’t be travelling if the restrictions weren’t lifted.  

“We couldn’t have done, purely from the point of view of having to isolate for 48 hours and take a test. Because of the travel details, we would have been leaving ourselves open to losing a whole squad over in France for ten days had we got the scenario wrong, we might have had another ten days had we tested going into the Toulon game (next weekend). 

“There was no clarity given on what isolation meant and what access to training facilities meant. It was certainly a non-starter from our point of view right at the beginning but EPCR and LNR were pushing hard all the way through and kept us abreast of that. 

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“We wouldn’t have made that early journey so there is no vindication, it was either we don’t go or we do go and these are the parameters we go within and are prepared to go within. There is no vindication, it’s nothing about that. It’s all about welfare, looking after the welfare of the people who are going and making sure we are safe and that we come back safely. 

“We [Newcastle] sit down and talk about it on an hourly basis. You can only imagine trying to take 40 people to a place and not quite knowing whether you are going to go or not, whether you have got to fork out the expenditure to go or not or whatever. 

“The uncertainty has created quite a bit of angst for a lot of people who deal with the organising but having said that LNR and EPCR have pushed all the way through and said, ‘We are trying our best and we will hopefully come up with the goods’. Full credit to them, they have done. It speaks volumes for the relationship the LNR have with French Government.”

The three Schengen visa players in the Newcastle squad are not involved this weekend, but Richards explained this wasn’t because of any red tape about getting them having to get additional necessary clearance to travel. “Sadly one has got covid and is injured, one is affected by family issues and then the other one is injured. We have absolutely no issues with that at all.”

That said, it has been an anxious time for the Newcastle players who are available to play but were left waiting on clarity until the day before the game. “For them, there were concerns about whether we were going or not. They needed to know from their lifestyle and their life point of view what to expect this weekend, as would anybody.

“But in terms of what is going on behind the scenes and the efforts that are being put in to get there, they have an understanding as to what those efforts are and who is doing work and at what times of the day people are up working until to make it happen. From their side of things, they just needed to know and that is the only worry that they had.”

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