European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) has extended the window to register players for their competitions in a bid to help the three Champions Cup teams serving a 10-day quarantine upon returning from South Africa.
Scarlets, Munster and Cardiff Rugby all have European fixtures on the weekend of December 10-12 and will now have until the previous Wednesday to register emergency recruits. EPCR stressed that it will “ensure all possible measures are considered so that the matches take place as scheduled”.
Failure to raise a team would result in a 28-0 forfeiture and Ospreys have confirmed that they would be willing to loan players to Scarlets, who have requested a change to the date of their match against Bristol Bears.
Scarlets also questioned the integrity of the tournament if they were to select academy and part-time players and warned of “catastrophic” consequences if their front-line players are not given longer to prepare after emerging from quarantine.
There are 32 Scarlets players quarantining in a hotel close to Belfast after flying back from South Africa on Sunday following the postponement of their United Rugby Championship (URC) fixtures due to the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
That has left just 14 fit players, seven of whom are development contracts, training for the match against Bristol with the others set to end their quarantine on the previous day. According to executive chairman Simon Muderack, there are “four or five positions where we physically do not have a body to fill that position”.
“At the moment, the best the players can do in their hotel in Belfast is exercise as individuals within the confines of their own rooms as well as being allowed a short time slot outside to walk around in the car park,” said Muderack.
“That is no preparation for a high-intensity game of European rugby. In our world, physical capacity is everything, if players are ‘under done’ it can be catastrophic for careers and have a direct increase to risk of injury.
“The Scarlets have a proud history in European competition and we have been looking forward to testing ourselves against two sides in Bristol and Bordeaux who have been up there among the best on the continent in recent years. It is hugely disappointing that we will not be allowed to do that on a level playing field.”
'Get us out of here, you clowns'
Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said that Scarlets had asked for “seven or eight players” via email. He said it would suit his side for individuals the opportunity to face Bristol “in a prestigious game”.
“It’s about getting everyone in the tent together if you can and helping each other out and looking after each other,” Booth said of coming to the aid of Scarlets.
Players and staff from Cardiff Rugby, meanwhile, remain in South Africa after a party of 42 was thwarted in their third attempt to fly out of Cape Town by travel restrictions. Earlier on Thursday, Matthew Morgan, the Cardiff full-back, had called the URC “a shambles of a league” in a swiftly-deleted Twitter post.
“What a shambles of a league @URCOfficial is,” it read. “Shocking they dragged us out to South Africa in the first place and can’t even fly us home.
“And @WelshGovernment is getting more of a joke day by day. GET US THE F--- OUT OF HERE YOU CLOWNS”.
Telegraph Sport understands that URC officials have been instrumental in coordinating travel logistics and will provide mental health support and other amenities, such as digital subscriptions, for quarantine hotels and for players, from both Cardiff and Munster, left in South Africa after returning positive PCR tests.