Sale’s critical Gallagher Premiership clash with Worcester is in danger of being cancelled after 16 players tested positive for coronavirus, the PA news agency understands.
The decisive final round of regular season fixtures on Sunday has been thrown into chaos by the spread of Covid-19 through the Manchester club, with a small number of backroom staff also returning positive tests.
The fallout could affect Northampton’s trip to Gloucester after Saints played Sale at Franklin’s Gardens on Tuesday evening.
Of more pressing concern given its importance to the race for a top-four finish, however, is the doubt that hovers over the Sharks’ ability to fulfil their showdown with Worcester.
The unavailability of 16 players decimates the Premiership’s smallest squad of just 32 senior professionals and would leave them unable to field a matchday 23 at the AJ Bell Stadium without summoning reinforcements from their academy or making emergency signings.
In addition, Manu Tuilagi, Cobus Wiese and Lood De Jager have been struck down by long-term injuries and are unavailable for a game Sale must win if they are to secure a semi-final.
Both Sale and Premiership Rugby (PRL) have been contacted for comment by the PA news agency.
If a club is unable to field a competitive team because of coronavirus, they automatically forfeit the game and a 20-0 defeat is awarded against them.
🚨 #GallagherPrem Round 2️⃣2️⃣ fixtures 🚨
Super Sunday is fast approaching and we CANNOT wait 😎
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) October 1, 2020
In that scenario, Sale would almost certainly endure an agonising end to an otherwise fine season by being replaced in the top four by Bristol, who are expected to sweep aside London Irish.
Most tests were carried out on Thursday with clubs informed of the results on Friday morning. PRL does not release results until 48 hours after the tests were taken, meaning official confirmation will not be given before Saturday.
The team announcements that were due to take place at midday on Friday have been delayed by 24 hours.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Bath at Allianz Park, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall confirmed the extent of the problem at Sale.
“I’m not sure what happens next, it would depend on how many players they have available from the squad who weren’t in contact with those 16 players,” McCall said.
— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) October 2, 2020
“As soon as you’ve got a positive test you’ve got to determine who else needs to be isolated right away, depending on the contact with that player who has tested positive.”
Saracens anxiously awaited the return of their results on Friday morning after Racing 92 revealed they had nine positive tests after winning the rivals’ Champions Cup semi-final in Paris last Saturday.
“There was concern. Before our results you wondered, but we have come through with a clean bill of health and that is great,” McCall said.
Northampton’s issues centre around the front row where their crisis at loosehead prop might render them unable to play Gloucester were their remaining options in the position be forced into quarantine.
Regular testing has been carried out at the 12 Premiership clubs since early July.
The 2019-20 season restarted on August 14 following a five-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic.
All 48 games across eight rounds of scheduled fixtures between mid-August and earlier this week were completed.