Rugby’s season is in turmoil again with the French Government about to pull the plug on their clubs taking part in the final two pool rounds of European competition this month.
he French sports ministry is to hold further talks with French clubs, and tournament organisers EPCR will be meeting tomorrow with LNR, the French clubs’ body, but the Heineken Champions Cup could be facing a revised format if it is to reach the finish line. “No directive has been given, and the LNR has been asked by the French Government for its position on protocols for its clubs playing in EPCR’s tournaments against the backdrop of the recent detection of a new strain of coronavirus in France,” an EPCR spokesman said last night.
But the French ministry in a statement yesterday said: “The French Government is moving, in the short term, towards the adoption of measures to restrict or even prohibit the participation of French team sports clubs in matches including teams from the United Kingdom.
“The Sports Ministry is writing this weekend to LNR inviting it to postpone the next matches involving French clubs against British clubs, in accordance with the wishes expressed by several professional French rugby clubs over the last few days.”
In the rehash, Munster and Leinster will be able to complete their Guinness PRO14 game postponed from St Stephen’s Day. That game is likely to go ahead in Thomond Park the weekend of January 22/23.
Already there are implications for the Six Nations competitions. It’s understood the women’s tournament will be refixed for April/May, while the Under 20 Six Nations could be put back until summer.
It is hoped the senior men’s competition can kick off as scheduled on February 6, with France travelling to play Italy in Rome.
They are not due to travel to the UK until round three, for the game against Scotland in Edinburgh on February 28. Six Nations organisers are hoping the picture will have changed for the better by then.
France’s concerns centre on the UK variant of Covid-19. Bayonne have had to postpone their last three games in the Top 14 and there are claims their Covid issues started by fulfilling a European Challenge Cup fixture at home to Leicester Tigers a week before Christmas.
France is currently under curfew — either 6pm-6am or 8pm-6am depending on the region — and further restrictions are expected this week.
Despite the rampant Covid figures across Europe both EPCR and Six Nations will be under pressure to get some form of competitive rugby over the line to meet their commitments to broadcasters and sponsors.
For EPCR this may mean coming up with a new format to create a knockout phase to its competitions in April and May. Already the pool games were cut from four rounds to two in an effort to expedite the tournament. Currently in the Heineken Champions Cup the knockout phase starts with home and away legs in the quarter-finals, over the first two weekends in April.