Sale Sharks will face a three-day turnaround if they reach the Premiership semi-finals after Sunday’s match was moved to Saturday afternoon.
Premiership Rugby has confirmed that both semi-finals will be played on Saturday afternoon in order to give Exeter Chiefs and Bristol Bears as long as possible to prepare for their European finals next week, though it will come at the expense of Sale should Steve Diamond’s side qualify for the post-season finals.
Bristol are due to travel to France to play Toulon in the Heineken Challenge Cup final at Provence’s Stade Maurice David, before Exter take on Racing 92 in Saturday’s Champions Cup final.
Sale will replace Bath in fourth place if they beat Worcester Warriors on Wednesday in the delayed final match of the Premiership’s regular season, and will move up to third if they win with a bonus point due to having a superior points difference to Bristol Bears as both clbs will have won 14 games this season.
That is on the basis that the game goes ahead at all, with Sale pledging to forfeit the match if they have one player test positive for coronavirus after the encounter was postponed due to 16 players and three staff members returning positive Covid-19 tests last week.
Worcester have also threatened to boycott the match and take a 20-0 loss – which would put Sale into third place – if health protocols cannot be guaranteed, although that came with the suggestion that “legal consequences” could result from such a decision.
The semi-finals will start at 1:30pm with both games on BT Sport 1, with the broadcaster accidentally tweeting out the kick-off times on Monday evening before hastily deleting the post. Table-toppers Exeter will feature in the day’s second match at 4:30pm, although their opposition at Sandy Park could be any one of Bath, Bristol and Sale, while second-placed Wasps will host either Bristol or Sale at the Ricoh Arena.
However, Wednesday’s problematic encounter must be resolved first before the make-up of the semi-finals can be confirmed.
Asked if legal consequences could come out of the saga, Worcester boss and qualified lawyer Alan Solomons said: “I wouldn’t anticipate anything.
“It is a big decision that has got to be made, and it has got to be made for the right reasons – the health and safety of players, staff and family.
“Obviously, there are consequences to any decision that is made, and those consequences are wide-ranging. And they include legal consequences.
“Our duty to the players is their health and safety, and the health and safety of their families. That will remain paramount.
“I am trusting Premier Rugby, the RFU and Public Health England to act in the best interests of the health and safety of players, staff and families.
“They can take the decision they want, and at that point we will hopefully be in a position of having all the relevant facts so we can then consider our position properly.”
Sale are confident that the game will go ahead as planned – as they were for the weekend’s original fixture until the Premiership postponed the match due to Worcester’s and Public Health England’s fear over health concerns – but will pull out if the coronavirus crisis at the club continues to spread.
They also hit back at suggestion that players went out drinking following the Premiership Rugby Cup final win over Harlequins two weeks’ ago, though they have not yet been able to identify where the source of the Covid-19 infection came from.
The club said in a statement: “Following an internal investigation, Sale Sharks refute all recent allegations made in the national press and by other leading figures from Premiership Rugby clubs, regarding Sale Sharks’ players being in central Manchester or on university campuses following the Premiership Rugby Cup final on Monday 21st September.
“Sale Sharks is unable at this moment to confirm the cause of the Covid-19 outbreak at the club. We suspect that the cause of the outbreak is related to a ‘false-negative’ test result received in respect of one of our players.
“If the club feel it is not safe to play and/or receive one additional positive test, Sale Sharks will forfeit their Gallagher Premiership round-22 match with Worcester Warriors in order to ensure the health and safety of all concerned.”
Premiership semi-final fixtures
Saturday 10 October
1:30pm: Wasps vs Bristol Bears/Sale Sharks
4:30pm: Exeter Chiefs vs Bath/Bristol Bears/Sale Sharks
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