Scarlets’ Heineken Champions Cup clash against Toulon on Friday has been postponed after the French club decided not to play because of coronavirus-related concerns.
The Scarlets players were going through a work-out on the pitch at Parc y Scarlets 75 minutes before kick-off, but Toulon had not arrived at the stadium and television equipment was being packed away.
In a statement, Toulon said they had decided “not to play this meeting as planned this evening” after a positive Covid-19 test in the Scarlets squad.
Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby then confirmed the postponement.
The former European champions said: “Rugby Club Toulonnais learned this Thursday, December 17, that at least one player from the Scarlets team had tested positive earlier this week for Covid-19.
“Following this, the Bath Rugby club, which had faced the Scarlets last weekend, were forced to pull out of their second game of the Champions Cup (against La Rochelle) because 12 players in their squad had been in ‘close contact’ with this Welsh player.
“Despite this eminently delicate context, the EPCR, with the approval of the Welsh Rugby Union, wished to maintain the Scarlets-Toulon match.
“President Bernard Lemaitre spoke extensively with EPCR director general Vincent Gaillard. He specified that the sanitary conditions were not met to maintain the organisation of this meeting, the health of the players, of the staff and their families being paramount.
“The EPCR nevertheless upheld its decision. Faced with this state of affairs, Rugby Club Toulonnais, although aware of the serious consequences, decided not to play this meeting as planned this evening.”
EPCR confirmed the postponement around 45 minutes later, and the same period of time before the scheduled 5.30pm kick-off.
A statement read: “Following confirmation by Scarlets that one of their players tested positive for Covid-19 after last weekend’s round one match against Bath Rugby, the player self-isolated in accordance with public health guidelines and his two close contacts were not selected in the matchday squad for the Pool A fixture against RC Toulon.
“A medical risk assessment committee was convened earlier today to consider any potential issues in relation to Scarlets’ testing and tracing, and it was satisfied that the risk of further transmission had been contained before recommending that the match could go ahead safely.
“On learning of RC Toulon’s concerns regarding the fixture, it was suggested that the match could be postponed to a later date in the weekend to allow any of the club’s players to opt out of the match if they wished to do so.
“It was also suggested that RC Toulon could source willing players from their existing tournament squad to replace those who had withdrawn and that the Scarlets’ matchday squad could undergo additional PCR testing.
“These offers were rejected by RC Toulon, and EPCR can therefore confirm that the match is postponed.”
The latest developments mean further major problems for EPCR regarding this season’s Champions Cup.
Three games had already been cancelled in the Champions Cup this weekend because of coronavirus-related issues – Bath’s trip to La Rochelle and Glasgow against Lyon on Saturday, plus holders Exeter’s trip to Toulouse on Sunday.
EPCR convened a match resolution panel to decide the result of the games and announced on Friday night that La Rochelle were deemed to be 28-0 winners against Bath, Lyon the automatic victors against Glasgow by the same scoreline while Exeter met the same fate, with five match points going to Toulouse.
The panel found both Glasgow and Bath “were unable to safely field a matchday squad due to the unavailability of a significant number of isolating players”. As Exeter recorded “a number of positive tests for Covid-19 among players and staff”, they were “therefore unable to travel to France to fulfil the fixture” and Toulouse took the win.
A statement read: “EPCR would like to emphasise that blame was not considered as a factor during the deliberations, and the committee’s decisions were made with a view to facilitating the completion of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup in unprecedented circumstances.”
Scarlets head coach Glenn Delaney said his squad had been ready and waiting to play the game in Llanelli.
“We were ready to go, and the Toulon guys have decided they did not want the game to go forward,” Delaney told BT Sport.
“It’s back with EPCR now, who have supported the game to go ahead, so we are here awaiting further news.
“We had a matchday 23 ready to go and we were looking forward to the game.
“They (Toulon) will have their reasons for their decision, and I am not here to contest their reasons. What we rely on is EPCR’s guidance.”