English clubs still uncertain about the viability of meetings in France | Champions Cup
English clubs due to play in France this weekend have given conflicting messages over whether their matches will be accomplished, but European rugby chiefs were cautiously optimistic Wednesday night that the matches would go on as planned.
Newcastle, Sale and Bath are expected to play in France, but have expressed serious concerns over what they see as prohibitive travel restrictions. They are expected to self-isolate for 48 hours upon arrival and produce a negative test before leaving quarantine, increasing the possibility of players or staff being stranded for 10 days.
The organizers of the Champions and Challenge Cups have been working with the National Rugby League in hopes of securing confirmation that French government rules will be relaxed in time for all three fixtures to take place.
Even though confirmation had not arrived, Sale expressed confidence that their game at Clermont would go on Sunday, but Bath was adamant they would not travel to La Rochelle on Saturday without the required guarantees. Newcastle expect Friday’s game in Biarritz to take place and travel that morning unless otherwise specified.
Despite the confusion, Sale’s confidence meets that of European Professional Club Rugby. Sale is due to travel on Saturday, return on Sunday and their rugby manager, Alex Sanderson, set a positive tone, revealing his South African players would also need to obtain the necessary visas to enter France.
“We’re going, that’s what I was told,” Sanderson said. “From what I understood, we didn’t have to respect the 48 hours or the PCR test, which was the risk because people would probably be trapped in France. We may still need a Queen’s Seal, but everything suggests it’s happening.
Bath rugby manager Stuart Hooper was more circumspect, insisting that if the 48-hour isolation period remained in place his team would stay put, mindful of how Munster, Scarlets and Cardiffs Blues were all recently stranded in South Africa.
“It’s more about testing in the country. If you have to self-isolate for 48 hours, it’s because you have to test it or stay in isolation for 10 days, ”he said. “This is absolutely not a condition that we would travel to France for, because you can get stuck there. We still don’t have absolute clarity on what to do. We hope to hear what is required very soon. I know the EPCR is working hard on it.
Ultimately, the key issue appears to be when, rather than if, the French government announces a relaxation of its travel restrictions with the UK. Already English clubs have been granted an exemption to travel to France as they are seen as ‘pursuing economic activity’ and it has been widely reported that the restrictions should be relaxed. However, it is not clear whether the necessary changes will take effect in time for this weekend’s matches.
Meanwhile, Manu Tuilagi is expected to seek release from England’s pre-Six Nations training camp in Brighton in order to prove his fitness with Sale six days before the start of the competition.
Eddie Jones is due to name his team for the Six Nations next Tuesday and England meet on January 24 on the south coast. But Tuilagi, who has not appeared since his hamstring injury against South Africa in November, wants to prove his fitness against his former club Leicester later in the week.
“I have to talk to Eddie about this,” Sanderson said. “Eddie has to release him first to play this game and I know [Manu] doesn’t want to come in without playing this game. I spoke to him today in the hallway and he said we’ll see how I feel after this game. Eddie was another person who said, listen, we’re going to deal with it mentally and physically. He must be right, feel he is right and that will be the discussion after this Leicester match.