James Crombie/INPHO The GGL Stadium in Montpellier.
Leinster's game called OFF with Montpellier awarded bonus-point win
The French government is toughening rules on travel from the UK from midnight on Friday.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 16th 2021, 5:59 PM

LEINSTER’S GAME AGAINST Montpellier in the Champions Cup tomorrow night has been called off following Covid outbreaks within both clubs over the past week.

Montpellier have been awarded a 28-0 bonus-point win, with Leinster expressing disappointment with EPCR about that decision.

The fixture was scheduled to take place at the GGL Stadium in Montpellier at 9pm local time tomorrow but it has now been cancelled at a very late stage.

Indeed, both clubs had even named matchday 23s earlier today and Leinster had clearance from Irish authorities to fly out to Montpellier tomorrow morning, having pushed back their initial Thursday afternoon departure time.

However, EPCR has now confirmed that the game is off and Montpellier have been awarded the five match points “following new positive Covid-19 test results from the Leinster Rugby playing squad.”

“The Match Risk Assessment Committee, made up of medical doctors from EPCR’s Medical Advisory Group as well as an independent medical specialist with experience in virology, advised EPCR of its concerns following new positive Covid-19 test results from the Leinster Rugby playing squad, and regrettably the decision was made to cancel the match,” reads an EPCR statement.

“EPCR would like to acknowledge the efforts by both clubs to fulfil the fixture, and would also like to emphasise that awarding the match to Montpellier is a tournament management measure with the objective of ensuring that all fixtures in the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup are accounted for, and not a sanction.”

The42 understands that Leinster strongly made the case against Montpellier being awarded the 28-0 win, arguing that they had a matchday squad ready and willing to travel and fulfill the fixture, as well as pointing to the fact the French club had also recorded positive Covid cases in the past week.

Leinster initially reported four positive cases in their set-up last Friday, before announcing another unspecified number of cases on Tuesday. EPCR’s statement says its decision comes after “new positive Covid-19 test results from the Leinster Rugby playing squad.”

Hot on the heels of EPCR’s confirmation of the decision, Leinster have published a statement expressing their disappointment at the five points being awarded to Montpellier.

Leinster confirmed that they had a matchday squad ready to fly out to France tomorrow morning, with Public Health Ireland having provided approval for them to depart.

The entire matchday squad named earlier have completed five rounds of antigen tests and four rounds of PCR tests in the past six days, returning no positive results.

“Leinster Rugby’s team management has expressed its disappointment with EPCR over the decision to award a 28-0 win in Montpellier’s favour,” reads the Leinster statement.

“The Leinster Rugby squad and staff have had five rounds of Antigen tests and four rounds of PCR tests in the last six days and a group of players and staff, who have all come through each stage of those tests, had been selected to represent the club in France tomorrow evening and arrangements made accordingly.

“As a result of these test results and the measures implemented by Leinster Rugby, a letter was issued today, Thursday, 16 December 2021, to Leinster Rugby from Public Health Ireland confirming that the group could travel to France for the game.

“At all times Leinster Rugby has complied with all measures and protocols required of the club by EPCR, and by the HSE, and will continue to do so.

“While we are disappointed with the outcome of today’s decision by EPCR, our focus now is the health and well-being of all our players and staff and we would like to put on record, as a club, our sincere thanks to Prof. John Ryan and all the medical team supporting those players and staff.”

Leinster started their Champions Cup campaign with a bonus-point win over Bath in Dublin last weekend, but this decision is an obvious setback. They are scheduled to play Montpellier in Dublin on 16 January and then travel to Bath on 22 January in their two remaining pool-stage games in the competition.

Several other games in the Champions Cup this weekend are also in doubt following the French government’s announcement of tougher rules for travellers from the UK.

Those measures will come into place from midnight on Friday, meaning there is suddenly major concern over the viability of a raft of Champions Cup and Challenge Cup games in the UK and France.

EPCR has confirmed it will meet with all French clubs this evening with the aim of assessing whether games in the UK and France can proceed following the French government’s directive – which is aimed at limiting the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

“EPCR is in contact with the French authorities in order to understand the new travel measures and to assess if any matches in Round 2 are affected,” said EPCR in a brief statement.

As things stand, there has been no official confirmation from EPCR of any further cancellations since Saracens’ Challenge Cup game against Pau was yesterday cancelled due to a Covid outbreak in the English club’s camp. Pau were awarded a 28-0 bonus-point win.

On Saturday, Bath are set to host Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle in the Champions Cup, while Sale are scheduled to welcome Clermont. 

Racing 92 are in line to welcome Ospreys to Paris on Saturday too, while Sunday includes Bordeaux visiting Scarlets, Toulouse hosting Wasps, and Stade Francais welcoming Bristol to Paris.

Meanwhile, this weekend’s Challenge Cup schedule includes several other UK/France match-ups with Dragons hosting Lyon, Worcester facing Biarritz, and London Irish taking on Brive.

In short, there are a huge number of fixtures involving French sides meeting teams from the UK, meaning the French government’s ban on non-essential UK travel is a major concern.

The three other Irish provinces are due to play Champions Cup games this weekend but there haven’t been doubts raised about those games yet.

Munster are due to welcome Castres to Limerick on Saturday but it’s unclear if the French government restrictions could also affect that fixture.

Meanwhile, Ulster face Northampton in Belfast tomorrow night and Connacht travel to take on Leicester in England on Sunday.

- This article was updated at 9.05pm to correct ‘negative’ to ‘positive’ in the 12th paragraph.

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