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'Too much risk': Quarantined Scarlets hand Bristol a 28-0 walkover

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

The new European Champions Cup season has got underway with a depressing thud, tournament organisers EPCR awarding Bristol a 28-0 walkover win after Scarlets informed them they were unable to field a sufficient team for this Saturday’s game at Ashton Gate. The Welsh region were one of the four URC teams caught up in the mess that was arriving in South Africa a fortnight ago only to find their planned league matches suddenly called off.

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It was the emergence of the Omicron strain of the Covid-19 virus that forced the travelling URC teams – Scarlets, Cardiff, Munster and Zebre – into quarantine and it has now resulted in Scarlets, who had since been sheltering in a Belfast hotel, into forfeiting their opening European game in England.   

An EPCR statement on Tuesday confirmed: “EPCR have been informed by Scarlets that due to player welfare concerns and the club’s inability to safely field a matchday squad, they are not in a position to fulfil their Heineken Champions Cup round one fixture against Bristol Bears scheduled for Saturday, December 11, at Ashton Gate. 

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How Munster have handled their quarantine

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How Munster have handled their quarantine

“The fixture in Pool B is therefore cancelled with Bristol Bears awarded the match on a 28-0, five-match points basis in accordance with the tournament rules. Scarlets, Bristol Bears and EPCR used their best endeavours to stage the match. However, this has not been possible and it is regrettable that the fixture is now cancelled.

“EPCR acknowledges the unfortunate circumstances which have impacted on Scarlets’ players and staff through no fault of their own and would like to emphasise that awarding the match to Bristol Bears is a tournament management measure with the objective of ensuring that all fixtures in the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup are accounted for. EPCR has been in regular dialogue with Scarlets in recent days to offer guidance and support, and best wishes are extended to everyone at the club.”

Scarlets explained their drastic situation in their own statement. “The overwhelming feeling was that it would be a physical risk to select any of the 32 front-line squad members who are currently in quarantine in a hotel outside of Belfast. Since returning from South Africa, the travelling party have been in a strict ten-day quarantine, confined to their rooms with limited outdoor time a day without having been able to train as a group. 

“That isolation period is due to end on Friday, December 10, just a day before the Bristol fixture. At present, we have 14 fit Scarlets players training at Parc y Scarlets – seven senior players and seven development players.  We would like to thank the Ospreys and Dragons for their offer of assistance, but, unfortunately, we have been unable to put together a match-day squad that can safely take the field against the Bears.”

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Simon Muderack, Scarlets’ executive chairman, added: “It is a decision we haven’t taken lightly. This is a great fixture between two great clubs, which supporters, players and staff on both sides were all looking forward to. Ultimately, though, the welfare of our players has to be our priority and following discussions with our staff, it was felt that there was too much risk to ask the players currently in quarantine to play a game of this magnitude and intensity just a day after coming out of quarantine. 

“You have to remember, the squad have been in isolation since the news of this Omicron variant first emerged when they were still in Durban so it will be something like 15 days in all. Also, a lot of the players haven’t played since the Benetton game on October 22. As a club, we have a duty of care to our players.

“With only 14 squad members training at the Parc, half of them young development players, we did look into the possibility of registering players from other regions and we have been grateful for the positive response from Ospreys and Dragons. But any players we did loan would effectively be ‘cup-tied’ which has made that option a challenge as well.

“With the integrity of the competition in mind, we felt we were unable to put together a match-day 23 that would safely be able to take the field against the Bears. We are all disappointed. I know a lot of fans had booked accommodation in Bristol and have been looking forward to this game for some time. But I am sure everyone will understand the situation we have found ourselves in through no fault of our own.

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“I would also like to stress that we have returned no positive Covid-19 cases in all the rounds of PCR testing prior to leaving and since arriving in South Africa and Northern Ireland. We would like to thank everyone at Bristol Bears and EPCR for their understanding of our predicament and look forward to welcoming Pat Lam and his side to Parc y Scarlets for the return fixture in January.”

Ironically, it was this time last year when Scarlets benefitted from a Champions Cup cancellation, the Welsh club getting a 28-0 win awarded over Toulon after the French club refused to travel from the airport in Cardiff to play a game at Parc y Scarlets.

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Shaylen 1 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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J
Jon 7 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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FEATURE Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink
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