European competition is in turmoil as organisers scramble to find a window in the already crowded schedule to stage the seven matches that have been postponed this weekend.
And with the new French travel restrictions that have caused chaos across the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup likely to continue into January, meaningful completion of the group phase is no longer a certainty.
All seven round two games involving French and British clubs on Saturday and Sunday have been called off due to the measures imposed on travellers from the UK that make cross-border competition impossible.
Five Champions Cup games have fallen, on top of the two already lost to Covid outbreaks, and two Challenge Cup matches have also been abandoned.
“The board received briefings from the three professional leagues which included updated information from the respective governments,” read a statement from tournament organisers EPCR.
“However, there were insufficient assurances that these matches would not be at risk.”
The decision to reschedule the games rather following the established protocol of cancelling them avoids the minefield of deciding who should receive the match points given it is a situation outside the clubs’ control.
However, the packed rugby calendar offers no obvious opportunities to stage fixtures that have been called off, a problem that will be compounded if next month’s rounds three and four are also impacted by France’s travel restrictions.
One option would be to reduce the round of 16 to one leg, rather than two, another is the introduction of midweek games, although this would raise serious player welfare concerns.
Unless the outlook changes dramatically over the coming week, there is the very real prospect of qualification from the group stage descending into a farce as Bristol enter Christmas without a minute of Champions Cup action in the bank after their opener against the Scarlets was cancelled.
Adding to the stress facing clubs is that lost gate receipts and aborted travel arrangements have caused renewed strain to finances already stretched by the pandemic.
The decision to postpone affects all games taking place on Saturday and Sunday, so Friday night’s Challenge Cup clash between the Dragons and Lyon at Rodney Parade goes ahead.
And Munster are able to host Castres in Limerick on Saturday evening due to the travel restrictions being limited to visitors from the UK only.
Among the games to be abandoned are Clermont’s visit to Sale and two anticipated Sunday fixtures when Wasps and Bristol were due to travel to Toulouse and Stade Francais respectively.
Two Champions Cup matches had already been lost to Covid outbreaks, resulting in Montpellier being awarded a 28-0 victory against Leinster and Racing 92 receiving the same outcome against the Ospreys.
The French government has stipulated that tourism and work are no longer sufficient reasons for travel regardless of vaccination status with Paris declaring only essential journeys are permitted.
In addition, all arrivals from the UK must provide a negative PCR test within the previous 24 hours as well as quarantine in France for seven days, although a fresh negative test will reduce that to 48 hours.