Rugby: European Champions Cup, Challenge Cup suspended due to France's COVID-19 protocols

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(Reuters) - The European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been temporarily suspended after the French government recommended that games against British clubs be postponed amid the COVID-19 crisis, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said on Monday.

EPCR and Ligue Nationale de Rugby held a meeting last week with the French sports ministry which recommended postponing January's fixtures -- both home and away -- between French clubs and those in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

"Following a directive from the French authorities that the participation of TOP 14 clubs in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup at the current time constitutes too great a public health risk, EPCR has no choice but to announce that the 2020/21 tournaments are temporarily suspended," it said in a statement.

"On the basis of this directive, EPCR had no choice but to temporarily suspend the pool stage of the Champions Cup and the preliminary stage of the Challenge Cup."

The Champions Cup was set to resume on Friday with Northampton Saints taking on Leinster while Toulon were scheduled to host Scarlets.

The United Kingdom has recorded more than 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 81,000 deaths, with a highly infectious variant of the novel coronavirus prompting many countries to close their borders to Britain.

Premiership Rugby said it would take a two-week, mid-season break after European competitions were temporarily suspended by EPCR, with the season set to resume on Jan. 29 as scheduled when Bristol Bears host Bath.

"The welfare of everyone involved in Premiership Rugby is crucial to us and this break in the season gives us the chance to hand some much-needed rest to our hard-working players, management, staff and match officials," Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said.

The Six Nations is also set to begin on Feb. 6 and French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte said over the weekend that he remained optimistic that the tournament would go ahead as scheduled.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)