Toulon have reacted angrily following the 11th-hour decision to cancel Friday’s Champions Cup game against Leinster in Dublin because of a solitary positive case of Covid-19 in the French club’s squad. The three-times champions now face elimination from this season’s tournament with Leinster handed a walkover.
Senior officials from Toulon are outraged that European Professional Club Rugby called off the game barely five hours before kick-off even though the front-row player concerned had remained in France and all his teammates tested negative when retested on the eve of the game.
The Toulon president, Bernard Lemaître, labelled the cancellation “disgusting” and “a scandal”, claiming the team had been given permission to travel in spite of the positive Covid-19 case.
It has emerged that EPCR told Toulon the fixture could potentially be postponed until Sunday but only if six other front-row players considered to have been in closest contact with the affected individual were stood down. In a statement Toulon described this request as “an obvious sporting impossibility” and expressed “amazement” at the governing body’s proposal.
“This is once again proof of the errors linked to the organisation of European competitions,” said the statement. “Rugby Club Toulonnais strongly deplores this decision and sends its thoughts to all its supporters who were impatiently awaiting this match.”
EPCR officials, however, insisted they had little choice. “Although the RC Toulon players and staff who had travelled undertook an additional round of PCR testing in Dublin which revealed no positive results, the committee concluded there were a number of high-risk contacts with the player.
“Having been notified of that position, RC Toulon informed EPCR that they could not select a match day squad to safely fulfil the fixture. Having explored all possible alternative arrangements, it was decided the match could not be played safely given both the current public health guidelines in Ireland and EPCR’s Covid-19 protocol.”
Earlier in this season’s competition, ironically, Toulon declined to play against Scarlets in Llanelli after a Covid-19 outbreak in the Welsh camp which resulted in the home team being awarded a 28-0 walkover win. A similar outcome is now inevitable, with Leinster set for a quarter-final meeting against Exeter Chiefs or Lyon next week.
EPCR will be praying this latest episode is an isolated one, with numerous other big knockout games scheduled for the next two weekends. Any further cancellations would cause havoc, with no spare weekends available. With Covid cases rising in France, however, there is clearly scope for further disruption to the cross-border competition.
Meanwhile the Scotland flanker Hamish Watson has been named Six Nations player of the championship. The Edinburgh forward gained 35% of the 125,000 votes cast by fans to beat Antoine Dupont of France, Louis Rees-Zammit and Taulupe Faletau of Wales, and the Ireland duo Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Beirne.