To avoid Covid-19 from further affecting the group stages of this month’s Champions and Challenge Cup, European rugby chiefs are looking into how to change testing procedures.
Some French clubs had threatened to boycott the remainder of the tournament, but organizers remain hopeful for now that the matches next week will go ahead as scheduled.
Following recent cancellations on both sides of the Channel, French clubs have called for test match rules to be standardized across European leagues. The Top 14 teams are used to having their players screened 72 hours before the match, resulting in the cancelation of the match with three or more positive tests for a club.
In England, where Premiership club players are regularly screened on Mondays and touch tracing is more widespread, a different method exists.
A meeting of the EPCR Medical Advisory Board, made up of medical experts from the leagues and associations concerned, ended Monday without a final solution, with infection rates rising again across Europe.
Contact tracing, matchday risk assessment, cross-border travel and compliance with the protocols were also addressed, with independent guidance from Dr. Daniel Koch, a Swiss-based doctor and virologist.
While Bayonne has been confirmed to have cancelled its two remaining Challenge Cup matches against Leicester and Zebre in France, EPCR insists that no official notification has been obtained from any of the participating clubs that they do not intend to play their remaining matches.
However, the overall picture remains troubling as tougher lockout measures now come into effect across Europe.
If it becomes more difficult for cross-border travel, even for professional athletes, life will be even more difficult for organizers, as there will be no room in the busy schedule to reschedule the final two rounds of the preliminary competition.
In the group stage, more widespread cancellations will obviously jeopardize the credibility of the whole tournament. After a series of positive tests forced the cancellation of the Toulouse match before Christmas, reigning champions Exeter are still struggling to qualify for the knockout stages.
There are also growing demands for Premiership Rugby to eliminate this season’s relegation on the grounds that points awarded for matches not played could unfairly skew the bottom of the table.
A PRL spokesman emphasized that “no votes or decisions have been taken” and said that the future remained unclear: “It is a very difficult situation and at the moment people are not in control. The virus is in control and will dictate what happens.”