Thursday 26 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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EPCR insists it will do utmost to complete the 2019/20 Champions Cup
France has confirmed that major sport will not resume there before September.

EPCR INSISTS IT will do its utmost to conclude the 2019/20 Champions Cup and Challenge seasons, which have been put into even greater doubt after the French government announced that professional sport will not resume in France before September.

However, EPCR – the tournament’s organising body – said that it remains committed to making every effort to conclude the 2019/20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup campaigns.

EPCR says it will discuss the latest situation with the relevant leagues and unions, with the French restrictions meaning they are likely to explore playing the games much later this year, potentially in October.

richie-gray-dejected James Crombie / INPHO Toulouse were drawn to host Ulster in the quarter-finals. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Given the uncertainty over when Covid-19 restrictions will allow rugby to return, as well as the obvious backlog of games at club and Test level, it will certainly not be a straightforward task.

Three French clubs qualified for this season’s Champions Cup quarter-finals, with Toulouse drawn to host Ulster, while Racing 92 were due to visit fellow Top 14 outfit Clermont.

Leinster were also set to host defending champions Saracens in Dublin.

Meanwhile, French sides Toulon, Castres and Bordeaux all qualified for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Those European ties were initially scheduled to take place on the weekend of 3/4/5 April but were indefinitely postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

There had been some hope that the fixtures could be played in late summer if restrictions in Ireland, the UK and France lifted but that possibility has now been scuppered. 

The finals of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup were also due to take place in Marseille on 22 and 23 May. 

Earlier today, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed that major sport will not be permitted to resume in the country before September, even behind closed doors.

“The 2019-2020 professional sports leagues, notably football, cannot yet restart,” said Philippe.

“I would like to be precise here: no large sports gatherings or any gathering of 5,000 people or more, needing the permission of the local police and long prior arrangements, will be allowed before September.”

simon-zebo-dejected-after-the-game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Simon Zebo and Racing 92 are due to visit Clermont in the quarter-finals. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The government announcement means that the 2019/20 seasons of the Top 14 and Pro D2 – officially suspended as things stand – are almost certainly over. What lies ahead for the 2020/21 season is also unclear.

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Fédération Française de Rugby [FFR] president Bernard Laporte has told Le Figaro that the FFR and LNR [the governing body for the French clubs] have sent a letter to the nation’s president, Emmanuel Macron, to warn him of the severe financial consequences for rugby clubs if they were unable to host fans in their stadiums for the rest of 2020.

“We sent a letter to explain to the president that there is going to be terrible uncertainty about the future of certain clubs,” Laporte told Le Figaro. “The state must listen to professional rugby.

“Unlike football, French rugby does not live on TV rights. Clubs cannot do without ticket sales and the much-more profitable hospitality. We will have to be listened to and heard if we want to save the professional game.

“If we are told we can’t play in front of spectators before January, it will be catastrophic for professional clubs. Some will go bust. In that situation, state aid will be needed to save these clubs, which are so important for their regions.” 

In Ireland, there remains some hope that the four Irish provinces may be able to return to some form of collective training next month, with the IRFU exploring the possibility of moving Ulster to a temporary training base in Dundalk to ensure they’re operating under Irish government guidelines.

The longer-term hope is to play inter-provincial fixtures in Ireland, but it remains extremely unclear when rugby teams will be able to return to training or playing.

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