French rugby chiefs have condemned the decision to cancel Saturday’s Champions Cup clash between Toulouse and Cardiff as “scandalous and totally unfounded”.
René Bouscatel, the president of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby that oversees France’s professional game, said a meeting of LNR’s directors would be held “as a matter of urgency” and that possible legal action would be discussed. The game, due to take place in Toulouse, was cancelled after a number of positive Covid-19 tests in the hosts’ camp. The tournament organisers, European Professional Club Rugby, said Cardiff had been awarded the fixture by a 28-0 scoreline with five match points.
It leaves Toulouse’s hopes of reaching the knockout phase hanging by a thread. They were seventh in Pool B – a position good enough to progress – but they could now miss out if other results go against them this weekend.
It also puts Cardiff in the qualification picture, which is remarkable in itself after they tackled Toulouse and Harlequins before Christmas without numerous players due to quarantining in South Africa – where they had been due to play two United Rugby Championship fixtures – and on their return to the UK.
Toulouse, meanwhile, had named a team for the game and published it before Friday’s cancellation announcement. In a statement, LNR said: “Following the announcement of the EPCR to cancel the Champions Cup match between Stade Toulousain and Cardiff Rugby, the LNR condemns a scandalous and totally unfounded decision.
“Toulouse has put together a group of players to field a team fit to play the match, in full compliance with EPCR health regulations and the French health protocol. The EPCR’s Covid-19 protocol stipulates that the EPCR applies and defers to the protocol established by the league to which each club belongs, and adheres to the position of the medical authority of this league regarding the possibility for a club to play the match when positive cases are declared.
“In the case of Stade Toulousain, the commission of expertise Covid-19 of the NRL (LNR) has communicated its position Thursday evening,20 January, to the EPCR – this position being that the club could play the match against Cardiff Rugby. The decision of the EPCR is therefore taken in violation of its own regulations. It is incomprehensible and seriously prejudices the club and the fairness of the competition.”
Bouscatel added: “The Champions Cup is a very prestigious competition. Its organisers cannot afford to make arbitrary decisions that are contrary to its own regulations. This decision is irresponsible. I have decided to convene an LNR board of directors’ meeting as a matter of urgency to discuss the follow-up, including legal action, to be taken on this decision.”
The Cardiff squad and management had not left Wales, with their scheduled charter flight from Cardiff airport being cancelled on Friday morning. EPCR said: “Discussions with Stade Toulousain and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby took place before the match risk assessment committee, made up of medical doctors from EPCR’s medical advisory group as well as independent medical specialists, advised EPCR of its concerns as Stade Toulousain had recorded a significant number of positive Covid-19 test results from within its tournament squad. And with the risk of further infection deemed to be too great, regrettably the decision was made to cancel the fixture.”
Leicester’s Champions Cup game at home to Bordeaux-Bègles on Saturday has also been cancelled. EPCR said Bordeaux-Bègles had recorded a number of positive Covid-19 test results among the playing squad and were not in a position to fulfil the fixture. Leicester, who had already qualified for the knockout phase, have also been awarded a 28-0 scoreline and five match points.
Newcastle’s European Challenge Cup game against Toulon on Saturday has been cancelled due to coronavirus cases at the Premiership club. EPCR said Newcastle had informed them they were not in a position to fulfil the fixture at Stade Félix-Mayol. The Falcons said nine positive Covid-19 tests had been recorded following Newcastle’s European Challenge Cup trip to Biarritz seven days ago. As a result, Public Health England advised Newcastle not to travel to France.