Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson is uncertain as to whether their Champions Cup tie against Clermont Auvergne will take place due to the laws imposed by the French government.
At the very least, the Sale director of rugby expects to field a severely understrength team with them likely to be without their South African contingent and others that are not fully vaccinated.
Although the majority of the Sharks squad are double jabbed, some have not been vaccinated, which will further reduce their squad strength.
France recently announced that all sportspeople in the country must be vaccinated and that will come into effect the day before Sale face Clermont.
High degree of uncertainty
“It’s a high degree of uncertainty that it will happen but I 110 per cent want it to happen and we have already started the planning process around how we build our game up,” Sanderson told reporters.
“We just tell them (the players) that it is on and it is to all intents and purposes – we have been told it is going ahead but all these circumstances surrounding its ability to go ahead are still at the moment very hazy and speculative.
“There is a certain type of visa that you get if you are South African which has to be approved via French customs, government or whatever, and they have restricted travel (for everyone) to essential only.
“They would have to fast-track and approve these Schengen visas in record time. Apparently, it is only a stamp but I don’t know, it’s out of hands entirely and in the lap of European rugby and their ability to push it through and the French government then to approve it. It has got to go through a few hoops first.”
Sanderson admits that, should they be forced to travel with a depleted squad, they wouldn’t be ‘competitive’ and insists that it would be a common theme for the Premiership clubs.
“It doesn’t give us a competitive team. Nine of our squad wouldn’t be approved and that isn’t including those lads who haven’t been double jabbed, of which there is one or two, and we are not the only ones. We (English teams) are all in a similar boat here,” he added.
“The focus is on this weekend (against Bristol) but you have hotels to book and visas to push through and the EPCR met today as a committee to resolve the question of whether or not the games will be on. Right now, the answer is yes, the games are on.
“I 100 per cent want it to be on. Players are not rugby trainers but we can’t field a competitive side without picking our South African players and bringing them into France. Can’t field one but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Five matches were postponed in Round Two, including Sale’s home clash with Clermont, due to travel restrictions imposed by the French government.
EPCR have announced their intention to reschedule the matches but there is no space available in the English calendar to replay those games.
It is a similar situation to last season when the final two rounds of pool matches were cancelled and the schedule was revised, but Sanderson admits that this season could be even more challenging for the European governing body.
He added: “Doomed is a big word. If I say yes (the Champions Cup is doomed), that will come up as a title. It has happened before: ‘Sanderson thinks Europe is doomed’. So I am not going to say doomed but I do think it is in trouble and it is not its own fault.
“We have had to deal internally with Covid and all the issues and curveballs that come up with it – we missed the Newcastle game just a couple of weeks back.
“But there is no space in the season to reschedule these games. There is none so how do you continue with the tournament in its own structure? I can’t say you can. If we can’t field our best team to go to France and then/or that game isn’t played, potentially because it is still slightly up in the air, I can’t see how you can continue with the format.
“So they will have to come up with something interesting but that is well above my pay grade how to devise the ways and means for the best teams to play in Europe but certainly we want to do it, we want to play the best teams.”
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