French sports minister demands explanation for Toulouse decision from EPCR

Antoine Dupont, captain of Toulouse, celebrates with team-mates after their victory during the Heineken Champions Cup Final against La Rochelle at Twickenham in May of last year. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Champions Cup organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) yesterday came under renewed pressure over their decision to award a 28-0 defeat against Toulouse after their clash with Cardiff was cancelled.

French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu has written to the body to express her “misunderstanding” of the decision of EPCR’s Match Risk Assessment Committee, which comprises the chief medical officers of competing unions and independent experts, to deem it would be unsafe for the game to go ahead after Toulouse reported 20 positive Covid-19 tests in their camp.

Like Leinster, who lost their round two match against Montpellier after the committee reached the same conclusion about their December outbreak of the virus, Toulouse are deeply unhappy at the decision.

As a result of the 28-0 defeat and their previous loss away to Wasps, the champions have a tough draw against Ulster in the two-legged round of 16 and will be away from home in the quarter-finals and semi-finals should they get there.

The decision of the committee falls under the tournament rules which all 24 teams signed up to and there is no recourse to appeal.

However, Top 14 organisers LNR have threatened legal action against EPCR, something that may not sit well with Racing 92, Montpellier and others who gained 28-0 wins that helped them into the knockout phase when their matches were cancelled.

French government pressure adds to the Toulouse cause, with Maracineanu writing: “I am awaiting an explanation of the reasons which led you to sanction Stade Toulousain when it had a full team to play the match against Cardiff and respected the LNR protocol to participate at the European Cup.”

She called the cancellation an “incomprehensible” decision that “penalises an exemplary club in its management of the crisis”.

Toulouse’s situation will have a knock-on effect on France’s Six Nations campaign, with Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack among the players who will delay linking up with the squad for their pre-tournament camp in Marseille.