Scarlets say they put player welfare first in opting to forfeit their Heineken Champions Cup pool game against Bristol at Ashton Gate on Saturday.
The Scarlets currently have 32 players in quarantine at a Belfast hotel after flying home last week from UK Government red-listed South Africa, where they had been due to play two United Rugby Championship fixtures.
The club’s 10-day isolation period is due to end a day before the Bristol game.
Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) have confirmed a 28-0 scoreline in Bristol’s favour and an award of five match points to the Gallagher Premiership club.
Scarlets are disappointed to announce that we have forfeited Saturday's @ChampionsCup round one match against @BristolBears due to player welfare concerns and the club’s inability to safely field a match-day squad
Full story ▶️ https://t.co/E1SLH2Jo3i
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) December 7, 2021
A statement from the organisers read: “EPCR have been informed by Scarlets that due to player welfare concerns and the club’s inability to safely field a match day squad, they are not in a position to fulfil their Heineken Champions Cup, round 1 fixture against Bristol Bears scheduled for Saturday, 11 December at Ashton Gate.
“The fixture in Pool B is therefore cancelled with Bristol Bears awarded the match on a 28-0, five match points basis, in accordance with the tournament rules.”
Fresh travel restrictions were imposed on South Africa following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant and Scarlets’s plea to EPCR to reconsider its position on rescheduling of European matches fell on deaf ears.
The club say they have 14 fit players training at Parc y Scarlets – seven senior players and seven development players – and, despite receiving offers to borrow players from the Ospreys and Dragons, they feel unable to put together a match-day squad that can safely take the field against the Bears.
“It is a decision we haven’t taken lightly,” said Scarlets executive chairman Simon Muderack.
“This is a great fixture between two great clubs, which supporters, players and staff on both sides were all looking forward to.
“Ultimately, though, the welfare of our players has to be our priority and, following discussions with our staff, it was felt that there was too much risk to ask the players currently in quarantine to play a game of this magnitude and intensity just a day after coming out of quarantine.
“You have to remember, the squad have been in isolation since the news of this omicron variant first emerged when they were still in Durban so it will be something like 15 days in all.
“Also, a lot of the players haven’t played since the Benetton game on October 22. As a club we have a duty of care to our players.
“With only 14 squad members training at the Parc, half of them young development players, we did look into the possibility of registering players from other regions and we have been grateful for the positive response from Ospreys and Dragons.
“But, any players we did loan would effectively be ‘cup-tied’ which has made that option a challenge as well.
EPCR statement below 👇
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) December 7, 2021
“With the integrity of the competition in mind, we felt we were unable to put together a match-day 23 that would safely be able to take the field against the Bears.
“We are all disappointed. I know a lot of fans had booked accommodation in Bristol and have been looking forward to this game for some time.
“But I am sure everyone will understand the situation we have found ourselves in through no fault of our own.
“I would also like to stress that we have returned no positive Covid-19 cases in all the rounds of PCR testing prior to leaving and since arriving in South Africa and Northern Ireland.
“We would like to thank everyone at Bristol Bears and EPCR for their understanding of our predicament and look forward to welcoming Pat Lam and his side to Parc y Scarlets for the return fixture in January.”
Munster and Cardiff, who were also forced to flee South Africa, are due to play European fixtures against Wasps and Toulouse respectively.