English and Welsh clubs set to boycott European fixtures in France

English clubs are set to BOYCOTT European rugby fixtures in France this weekend amid concerns over strict Covid rules… with Bath, Newcastle and Sale required to quarantine for 48 hours on arrival

  • Newcastle, Bath and Sale are all due to face Top 14 sides across the Channel
  • Travel plans are on hold against a backdrop of emergency negotiations 
  • Squads are supposed to quarantine for 48 hours upon arrival in France 
  • Anyone who returns a positive test result faces being stranded for 10 days

English clubs have been in talks about a joint plan to pull out of fixtures in France this weekend, amid grave concerns about quarantine restrictions.

Newcastle, Bath and Sale are all due to face Top 14 sides across the Channel in the next round of European competition, but travel plans are on hold against a backdrop of emergency negotiations. 

The Premiership clubs, along with Scarlets from Wales, are supposed to quarantine for 48 hours upon arrival in France, while any player or staff member who returns a positive PCR test result in the country — and possibly close contacts — faces being stranded in isolation for 10 days.

Newcastle, Bath and Sale are all due to face Top 14 sides across the Channel this weekend

Although EPCR (European Professional Club Rugby), organisers of the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, are desperate to ensure the next two rounds of pool matches go ahead as planned, Sportsmail understands that there is almost no chance of that happening. 

Officials are hoping that French League authorities will be able to persuade their government to ease quarantine restrictions, but such a breakthrough is considered highly unlikely.

Newcastle are scheduled to take on Biarritz at their Parc des Sports Aguilera on Friday night, but they would have to travel by early Wednesday in order to fulfil the French government edicts. It is understood that the Falcons have a flight held on Friday morning and will make the trip if the quarantine requirement is removed.

Covid rules have cast doubt over the next two rounds of Champions Cup and Challenge Cup

There is a significant financial dimension. Newcastle would ordinarily plan to take between 28 and 30 players, along with 15 to 20 coaches and staff. It is estimated that an away game in France would normally cost an English club approximately £70,000. Dean Richards, Newcastle’s Francophile director of rugby, had looked into the possibility of his squad remaining in France between their games against Biarritz and Toulon eight days’ later, but the cost was deemed too prohibitive.

Bath are due to take on La Rochelle on Saturday and Sale are scheduled to play Clermont Auvergne on Sunday. Both clubs were seeking guidance from EPCR yesterday before committing to making the trip — with the added and unwelcome factor of visa complications involving their South African players.

After his team’s Premiership victory over Worcester on Sunday, Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper said: ‘We need clarity as soon as possible. The quarantine period when you get to the hotel is still to be sorted out.’

Wales fear positive tests among their players could undermine Six Nations build-up

The Scarlets should be in action at Bordeaux on Saturday, but that is another game in doubt. The Llanelli-based side are wary of being dragged into another isolation ordeal after being stranded in South Africa when United Rugby Championship fixtures there were abruptly called off in November.

There are also concerns that positive tests involving their Wales players could undermine the Six Nations title holders’ Championship build-up.

French clubs will not face any quarantine restrictions in the UK and it is understood that they are prepared to isolate for 48 hours after returning home. Their Top 14 league has been repeatedly disrupted by Covid outbreaks. Toulon are thought to have suffered a mass outbreak of 25 positive cases which led to their recent game against La Rochelle being postponed.

Meanwhile, clubs are putting pressure on EPCR to confirm plans for rescheduling the round two matches that were postponed last month — and perhaps even the cancelled ties involving Scarlets and Leinster. An update on that is expected later on this week as the entire European club rugby season remains on a knife-edge.

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