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Champions Cup set to be postponed amidst latest wave of Covid-19

French authorities are believed to have major concerns about cross-border competition at present.

The Champions Cup trophy.
The Champions Cup trophy.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

THE CHAMPIONS CUP is set to be suspended for the next two weekends after a decision from the French government to prevent Top 14 clubs from taking part in the cross-border competition amidst the latest severe wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The42 understands that tournament organisers EPCR will postpone the fixtures due to be played on the weekends of 15/16/17 January and 22/23/24 January, which had been set to involve the four Irish provinces playing back-to-back European games.

The Champions Cup and Challenge Cup – which involve teams from France, the UK, and Ireland – are now in line to be pushed back to later in 2021.

On Thursday, EPCR met with the French Ministries of the Interior, Health and Sport, as well as the LNR – which represents the Top 14 clubs – and a representative from the office of French President Emmanuel Macron, amidst concerns over the alarming rise in Covid-19 cases across Europe and new strains of the coronavirus. 

Bayonne reported positive cases of the so-called ‘UK strain’ of Covid-19 in their squad after playing against Leicester Tigers in the Challenge Cup last month and have since had to shut down their club temporarily.

The suspension of the EPCR competitions would raise understandable fears over the 2021 Six Nations, which is scheduled to get underway in just four weekends’ time, although that competition involves fewer teams.

For now, the suspension of the European fixtures this month leaves the Irish provinces without scheduled games over the next two weekends.

The42 understands that the Guinness Pro14 would hope to use the newly-available dates to play out fixtures that have been postponed this season. The Premiership and Top 14 clubs are set to do the same with some of their own postponed matches.

The gap in the calendar could see the Pro14 fixture between Munster and Leinster that was due to be played at Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day rearranged for next weekend.

The inter-provincial clash was postponed last month but could now take place sooner than expected and would involve all the frontline Ireland internationals in what could be a huge derby game.

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EPCR will now work towards rescheduling the remaining two rounds of Champions Cup and Challenge Cup pool fixtures.

The two-legged home-and-away quarter-finals are currently scheduled to take place on the first two weekends of April, but the Six Nations is due to be played between now and then, meaning there is suddenly a major squeeze on the rugby calendar.

An official announcement from EPCR reads as follows:

“EPCR is aware of a formal communication that has been sent by the French authorities to the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) this evening (Saturday, 9 January) regarding the participation of Top 14 clubs in the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

“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.

“EPCR will now discuss this matter with the LNR as soon as possible before making any further comment.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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