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UK clubs threaten boycott over fears players 'trapped' in France

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Xavier Leoty/AFP via Getty Images)

Quarantine rules in France have left UK teams travelling there this weekend threatening a boycott due to fears their players could be left stranded following Champions and Challenge Cup matches versus Top 14 opposition. Premiership trio Sale, Bath and Newcastle are scheduled to respectively play at Clermont, La Rochelle and Biarritz while Scarlets, who endured a nightmare November trip to South Africa in the URC, are supposed to travel to Bordeaux.

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However, while tournament organisers EPCR confirmed last Friday that rounds three and four would proceed as planned as there has been a loosening of the French Government regulations that led to the eleventh-hour postponement of seven matches on the eve of last month’s round two weekend schedule, there are fears that the health rules haven’t been relaxed enough. 

Teams travelling to France this weekend are supposed to observe a 48-hour period of quarantine upon their arrival while there is also disquiet that anyone who tests positive for the virus could find themselves stranded for ten days. These fears have reportedly led to emergency talks. 

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England’s Lewis Ludlam guests on RugbyPass Offload

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England’s Lewis Ludlam guests on RugbyPass Offload

For instance, Newcastle were due to travel on Wednesday to Biarritz for their Challenge Cup tie but they have only organised a flight to France for Friday morning, ignoring the 48-hour rule. The latest take from Newcastle boss Dean Richards following their weekend Premiership loss to Northampton was: “It’s not as simple as EPCR just coming out and saying the games are going ahead. There is still a 48-hour isolation period for people entering France and there has been no clarity on what that means.

“If anyone tests positive there will be a ten-day isolation period and you would have to assume that will be for virtually the whole squad if they have been on a plane and a bus together. To be honest I’m not sure if we can go.”

Meanwhile, Sale boss Alex Sanderson told this week’s edition of BBC podcast Rugby Union Weekly: “The last hoop to jump through is this need to go and test over there 48 hours before the game. If you test positive on a PCR – and bear in mind that, if you have had Covid you can test positive for up to 90 days after – you are trapped in France.

“In today’s environment, there is going to be three or four players from each club who, if they are tested right now, test positive on a PCR because they have had it in the last 90 days. It’s rife. As such, we would be leaving these lads in France for weeks. If it was summertime and you were around Bordeaux or Biarritz, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. But if you’re in a mid-century concrete hotel eating baguettes for ten days, then it is going to be a pretty lonely place.

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“It’s for the protection of the players, to be able to play the next week and in the Premiership the week after that, that we hopefully get some influence that we don’t have to jump through any more hoops. A week ago we couldn’t get our Schengen visas through, so they have moved heaven and earth to try and get this competition on to travel for ‘economic reasons’,” continued Sanderson about Sale’s Champions Cup assignment at Clermont. 

“All that is brilliant, it means we can take a squad. It’s just whether we can come back home with a squad because so many have tested positive, which is why we missed the Newcastle game. So all of those lads would potentially have to stay out there.”

The latest statement from EPCR on the developing Champions and Challenge Cup situation read: “EPCR is continuing to work with the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, as well as with the other leagues and unions, to seek improvements to the conditions which currently apply to UK clubs when they travel to France, and to French clubs returning from the UK. If the 48-hour isolation period happens to be maintained for matches in round three, clubs will be permitted to train during this time provided relevant Covid-19 protocols are observed.”

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Shaylen 2 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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Jon 8 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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