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Toulouse forfeit Champions Cup tie with Cardiff and send Connacht through to last-16

France captain Antoine Dupont is among the Toulouse players who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Connacht coach Andy Friend.
Connacht coach Andy Friend.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Jan 21st 2022, 8:01 PM

CONNACHT HAVE BEEN assured of safe passage to the knockout stages of this season’s Champions Cup following organisers’ decision to hand Cardiff a walkover victory against champions Toulouse. 

And Covid-hit Toulouse have since confirmed that France captain Antoine Dupont has tested positive for the virus.

Connacht began the week believing they would need at least a losing bonus point against Stade to make the knockouts for the first time in their history, but a swell of covid cases in the Toulouse squad led to the cancellation of their game and the knock-on effect that Andy Friend’s squad can now not be caught in the standings. 

“Following the cancellation of Toulouse/Cardiff, our place in the Round of 16 is now confirmed,” said Connacht on their social media channels. 

“For the first time ever, we reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup! A great achievement for our players & management, and we’re not done yet.”

Toulouse/Cardiff today became the ninth game in this season’s competition where a side has been given a victory or a match declared a draw due to Covid-19 issues.

With the Welsh region being handed the win the record five-time champions are seventh in Pool B and need results to go in their favour if they are to reach the last 16.

“Following a meeting of an independent Match Risk Assessment Committee, EPCR has been advised that the Champions Cup, Round 4 fixture between Stade Toulousain and Cardiff Rugby scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday, 22 January) at Stade Ernest-Wallon cannot go ahead,” European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said.

“Cardiff Rugby have therefore been awarded the match in Pool A on a 28-0, five match points basis, in accordance with the Tournament Rules,” it added.

Toulouse president Didier Lacroix said on Friday the club will “take legal action” over the decision. 

Lacroix claimed his side had enough fit players to fulfill the fixture with EPCR rules stating clubs must follow their domestic league’s coronavirus regulations.

“We will take legal action against this decision because we’re witnessing a total lack of respect,” Lacroix told reporters.

“We can’t let this injustice pass,” he added during a 40-minute monologue.

Toulouse are seventh in Pool B and need results, including Castres’ game at English champions Harlequins and Wasps’ visit to Munster, to go in their favour if they are to reach April’s knock-out stages.

Their fixture at Wasps in December was declared a 0-0 draw due to travel restrictions in place between France and Britain and they lost to the English side last weekend. 

The French league (LNR), who run the Top 14 and ProD2, have claimed EPCR has broken its own Covid-19 rules in cancelling the game.

According to the LNR, EPCR regulations state clubs adopt guidelines from their domestic leagues and the French professional rugby body said Toulouse had enough fit squad members to play the game.

“The LNR denounces a scandalous and totally unfounded decision,” the LNR said.

“EPCR’s decision is in violation of its own rules. It is incomprehensible and brings a serious prejudice on the club and the fairness of the competition,” it added.

Toulouse club president Lacroix has since confirmed that France captain Antoine Dupont is among the players who have tested positive for Covid-19.

antoine-dupont-runs-in-a-try Toulouse's Antoine Dupont has tested positive for Covid. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He was injured, now he has Covid,” Lacroix told a press conference, confirming a rumour circulating since Thursday.

Lacroix did not give details on the other players involved.

The announcement comes two weeks before France’s opening game of the Six Nations tournament on 6 February against Italy. France then host Ireland in Paris on 12 February.

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Dupont, the world player of the year in 2021, had resumed training at the beginning of the week. He was supposed to make his return on Saturday against Cardiff.

The scrum-half, is one of 10 Toulouse players in the French Six Nations squad which is due to assemble on Sunday ahead of a training camp.

“We knew it was a possible hazard, but unfortunately we are used to it,” Serge Simon, vice-president of the French Rugby Federation told AFP, adding that players who tested positive could “not join the gathering until later”, once their tests are negative.

“What gives us some comfort is that the first match is not right away, so it will be fine,” Simon said.

Short of match fitness, Dupont could stay with Toulouse for the Top 14 game against Racing 92 on 29 January.

“If the French team lets us have him, it would be with great pleasure,” said Toulouse backs coach Clement Poitrenaud although he said he was “not worried” about the player’s “capacity” to “quickly get back into the rhythm”.

“Antoine is a boy who loves rugby and can’t stand being in the infirmary or at home. It is also a great frustration for him” that he has not played since 11 December, said Poitrenaud.

“He’s not a superman either, he can’t keep going at such a high level of performance without having little slumps or injuries from time to time.”

“It’s also perhaps a blessing in disguise given the last three seasons, which have been very intense for him. Plus the media hype around him, which can suck up a lot of energy. He took advantage of this time to recover, to rest, to regenerate.”

Updated at 7.29pm, with reporting from © AFP 2022

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Gavin Cooney

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