Confusion reigns over English clubs travelling to France for Champions Cup games

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  • Stuart Hooper
    English rugby union footballer
  • Alex Sanderson
    English rugby union footballer
The Heineken Champions Cup is still shrouded in uncertainty this weekend (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)
The Heineken Champions Cup is still shrouded in uncertainty this weekend (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

Confusion reigns over this weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup matches involving English clubs travelling to France with Sale and Bath giving conflicting outlooks on their fixtures taking place.

Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson insists Sunday’s trip to Clermont can proceed because of a modification to French travel restrictions, but his Bath counterpart Stuart Hooper is still seeking clarity from tournament organisers EPCR.

The sticking point for Gallagher Premiership sides visiting France in round three of European competition, a group that also includes Newcastle, is the existing requirement that they quarantine on arrival for 48 hours.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

If any personnel test positive for coronavirus, they would be required to remain in self-isolation for 10 days before returning home.

EPCR is seeking a softening of the rules and while optimistic of securing a positive outcome, on Wednesday evening it was unable to provide a definitive update as the chaotic build-up to the weekend intensified.

“All positive – we’re going. That is what I have been informed,” said Sanderson on Wednesday afternoon as the pool stage continues to be mired in chaos.

“The message this morning is that we’re going and from my understanding, we don’t have to stay the 48 hours or PCR test which was the worry because people would probably have got trapped in France.

“The final hoop to jump through is the Schengen visas which we’re still waiting on, but we’re very confident they’ll come through and the game will go ahead.

“I haven’t spoken to EPCR directly but on the back of all the communication we’ve had this far, we’re very positive. We have chartered a plane and sorted the hotel.”

Hooper stated that Bath would only fulfil their clash with La Rochelle on Saturday if the travel restrictions are eased and does not know when they can depart for the Stade Marcel Deflandre and what Covid-19 safety procedures they will face.

He will not risk the possibility of players or staff being left behind, mindful of the experience endured by Cardiff, Munster and the Scarlets when they were stuck in South Africa when the Omicron variant first emerged in November.

“For us it’s more about the testing in country. If you have to isolate for 48 hours it’s because you have to test out of it, or stay isolating for 10 days,” Hooper said.

“That’s absolutely not a condition by which we’d travel to France, as you can be stuck there.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

“It’s really important you don’t look too far ahead, but at the same time you also have to understand what it would mean for the players who might get stuck in France. We don’t know what that would look like yet.

“If we all travel over together and someone tests positive, are we all close contacts? Are we then all in a hotel with 40 people together for 10 days? That’s a hurdle that definitely needs to be got over very quickly.

“You have seen how that’s been a problem for other teams in other competitions. That’s a big part of the discussions with EPCR. We still don’t have absolute clarity on what we have to do. We hope to hear very soon about what’s required. I know EPCR are working hard on it.”

Bath want to fly out on Friday and return on Saturday evening, but this plan is only possible if Ligue Nationale de Rugby, who is talking to the French government on behalf of EPCR, is successful in its negotiations.

“It is hoped that the matches in rounds three and four will be played in more favourable conditions and EPCR expects an update on the situation shortly,” an EPCR statement read.

Toulouse, Racing 92 and Stade Francais all travel to face British opposition this weekend, but the capacity for French clubs to quarantine in their own country removes a complication faced by UK teams heading in the opposite direction.

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