Cardiff Rugby to fly home from South Africa amid 'panic attacks' among touring party

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Cardiff Rugby still stranded in South Africa with warnings of 'serious mental health issues' - PA
Cardiff Rugby still stranded in South Africa with warnings of 'serious mental health issues' - PA

The Welsh Government was accused of showing an “appalling” lack of empathy as players and officials of Cardiff Rugby were preparing to fly back from South Africa amid reports of panic attacks and “serious mental health issues” among the tour party.

Cardiff had not been able to return from Cape Town since their United Rugby Championship matches against the Lions and Stormers, scheduled for November 27 and December 4, respectively, were postponed on Friday along with all other rounds six and seven matches in the United Rugby Championship that were due to be played in South Africa.

South Africa had been promptly placed on the UK Government’s red list following the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. After that, on Sunday, two members of the Cardiff group tested positive for Covid, which one case suspected to be the Omicron variant.

That required the party to isolate themselves in individual hotel rooms and Beth Fisher, the ITV Wales sports reporter, tweeted on Tuesday that there were “serious concerns” about the health and wellbeing of Cardiff staff.

“Individuals are having panic attacks and there are serious mental health issues within the group,” she posted.

“There are individuals with pre-existing health conditions which are not being helped by the quarantine. Cardiff have a plane secured and had an exclusive hotel in Cardiff that had agreed to take both them & the Scarlets but the Welsh Government have NOT approved.”

On Tuesday lunchtime, Eluned Morgan, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Health and Social Services, suggested it would not be possible for them to undertake their 10-day isolation period in Wales.

“There are no places in Wales where they can be accommodated because we don’t have those hotels in Wales,” she said. “There is a very clear reason for that – it is because we don’t have an international airport that brings people in from red-list or potential red-list countries.”

Rhys Blumberg, Cardiff’s chief operating officer, later tweeted: “Absolutely appalling empathy and support shown by @WelshGovernment with regards to @Cardiff_Rugby staff who are stuck in South Africa. No special treatment required, just support to get them back on Welsh soil so they can start their quarantine.”

A statement released by the club on Tuesday evening confirmed they had secured a charter flight for Thursday morning with help from URC and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Barring those needing to remain in South Africa to complete 10 days of isolation, they will quarantine in a UK Government Covid-19 hotel in England for 10 days.

Scarlets and Munster caught up in quarantine

Scarlets, also in South Africa for URC matches, were able to return from the country on Sunday and are currently serving a 10-day quarantine close to Belfast. Most of the Munster party were able to leave South Africa on Tuesday night but the Irish club did confirm that their latest round of PCR testing had identified another four positive Covid results, taking the total number since their arrival to 14.

A Munster statement read: "In a hugely positive development the wider Munster touring party departed Cape Town tonight after a group of 34 players and staff received negative results on completing a fourth round of PCR testing in six days.

"Team management worked tirelessly on securing scheduled flights at short notice and the group are expected to land in Dublin on Wednesday evening.

"Another four positive cases were identified in Tuesday’s round of PCR testing and a total group of 14 will see out their respective isolation periods at the designated quarantine hotel in Cape Town."

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) are understood to be in contact with Cardiff and Munster and will explore every avenue available in order to complete their Champions Cup games. Failure to do so would result in a forfeit and a 28-0 loss for them.

Both sides have players that did not travel to South Africa that would be available for selection. Those players, predominantly internationals involved in the Autumn Nations Cup, will almost certainly need to be supplemented by youngsters and even emergency loan signings in order for them to raise a side.

Cardiff take on Toulouse on December 11 with Munster due to face Wasps the following day. Lee Blackett, the Wasps head coach, voiced his “massive sympathy” for the Irish province.

“Just take any of us,” he said. “Would you like to be locked in a hotel room on your own for 10 days? It’s pretty tough, isn’t it? A lot of those guys have young families back at home.”

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