European Cup in disarray, Six Nations in doubt
NEWS: Discussions about the Six Nations will be held next week after the French government on Saturday recommended rugby clubs postpone upcoming European Cup matches with domestic British teams due to the new Covid-19 variant in the United Kingdom.
The decision casts a doubt over the final two rounds of pool matches scheduled to start next weekend.
The meeting initiated by the French sport ministry will talk about the annual international tournament which is set to start on February 6 featuring France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
“This new variant of SARS-CoV-2 has increased transmissibility compared to those currently circulating in France, which then increases the risk of contamination,” a statement seen by AFP said.
“It’s why all travel or holiday to Britain is strongly ill-advised.
“The French government is leaning, on a short-term basis, towards the adoption of measures that restrict or even bar French clubs from participating in games against team from the United Kingdom,” it added.
Last week, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) and domestic competition organisers agreed to evolve protocol in the continental tournaments, which Top 14 outfits believed were too light.
Six fixtures in the Champions and Challenge Cups from earlier in the season have already been cancelled due to coronavirus cases among squads.
After playing games against English sides in December, Bayonne and Pau recorded cases of the new variant among their set-ups.
The Basque side had threatened to pull out of the second-tier Challenge Cup due to the contaminations.
The president of joint-record four-time European Cup winners Toulouse Didier Lacroix played down the current problems and said he hoped the tournament would be finished later in the year.
“There’s enough time to make up for this competition,” he told AFP.
“I think it’s a competition that’s far from being distorted right now, it will take place more with a knockout stage, with things a bit harder,” he added.
Several recent studies – yet to be peer-reviewed – have concluded that the British variant of the illness is likely to be far more transmissible than other strains.
Much of Britain has been under lockdown since last week in an attempt to cut spiralling infection rates and deaths.
A total of 1 325 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded on Friday – the highest since the first-wave peak in April last year.
On Saturday at 11.00 GMT the total number of fatalities caused by coronavirus in the United Kingdom stood at 79,833, the highest toll in Europe.
On Thursday, the French health ministry reported two clusters of the UK variant affecting a total of 19 people had been detected in a care home in the western French region of Brittany, and in Bagneux, a southern suburb of Paris.
Authorities found no evidence of any contact between one of the infected people in Bagneux and anybody who had travelled from Britain, which the ministry said indicated that the mutant virus is already circulating in France.