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EPCR temporarily suspends Champions Cup Rugby
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announced that the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup back to back fixtures scheduled to take place over the next two weekend will not now take place as planned. Over the last week there had been rumours of disquiet among both French clubs and the French government. Particularly in relation to their clubs both traveling and hosting clubs from the UK.
The plight of Bayonne in particular was highlighted last week. The club had reportedly withdrawn from their remaining two pool games against Leicester and Zebre. This came after positive COVID test within their squad after their most recent challenge cup game led to the squad being placed into self-isolation.
The EPCR, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, representatives of the French ministries of the Interior, Health and Sport, as well as of the President’s office took part in a meeting by audio conference last week. This highlighted concern around the testing procedures and Governmental concerns around the risk of transmission of the English strain of COVID in particular.
The full EPCR statement available here would indicate that this is only a temporary suspension of games. It remains to be seen if the tournament will resume unaltered or if the format will be tweaked to condense it in order to play the finals in Marseilles as scheduled on the weekend of 21/22 May.
What happens now?
The cancellation of these back to back fixtures frees up the next two weekends. This may allow the Guinness Pro14 to schedule some previously postponed games. We will bring you news of any rearranged fixtures as soon as a decision on this is made.
There is huge uncertainty around the current rugby fixture schedule. Both club and international fixtures look set to be either cancelled or rearranged due to increased COVID rates during the last month all over Europe, as well as in South Africa.
Speaking after Munster’s narrow win over Connacht on Saturday night head coach Johann Van Graan said: “We appreciate that the EPCR are dealing with a worldwide pandemic. We are getting accustomed to having to adapt, so we will just adapt as best we can and take anything that comes our way.” Indeed van Graan went onto revel that Munster have tried to build adaptability into their mindset for this season and chose the mantra “Change or be changed” at the start of the crisis back in March. “We know that change is the only certainty at this stage. We are so lucky to be able to play rugby. When we drove in today we said hopefully as the four provinces at least we are giving people an out for their mental space.”
Connacht coach Andy Friend was similarly asked about the stresses of dealing with the current uncertainty around fixtures. He commented “It’s not just at Connacht, it’s at every other PRO14 and European team out there. So the quicker we can get clarity on what the next few weeks look like, I think it’s going to be better for everybody.” However, he was keen to add that he’s not in any was apportioning blame for the uncertainty. He added: “I’m not having a shot at anyone. It’s the reality of what we’re living in at the moment, it’s tricky times. We will all look back in a few years’ time and ask how the hell we got through it.”
Will other tournaments be affected?
At this point, given the understandable stance of the French government in particular, it’s hard to see the Six Nations proceeding as planned on 6th February. The proposed Rainbow Cup involving the four former Super Rugby side – the Blue Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks as well as the current Pro12 sides is due to commence in April. Talks continue behind the scenes in relation to the fate of the Lions summer tour to South Africa. We will endeavour to keep you updated on any breaking news.