The Sale Sharks’ make-or-break Premiership fixture against the Worcester Warriors has officially been called off following the latest round of Covid-19 tests.
The Manchester-based club has been hit by a Covid-19 outbreak, with a reported 19 people affiliated to the team testing positive for coronavirus.
Sale had intended to go ahead with their tonight’s match, naming a match-day 23 on Tuesday, as they were desperate to snatch a place in the Premiership playoffs. They needed a victory over the Warriors in order to overtake Bath to fourth place on the table.
However, the Sharks admitted when naming their team that the fixture was dependent on the latest round of testing and confirmed they would forfeit the match if they reported another positive coronavirus case.
The club got the news it was dreading most on Wednesday, as it was confirmed that a further six new players and two staff have been identified as positive cases after tests were conducted on Tuesday.
All were immediately placed into isolation for 10 days. This means that there 27 positive tests at Sale Sharks in the last seven days. Premiership Rugby confirmed that due to the size and severity of the outbreak, both it and the Sale Sharks are in close contact with Public Health England.
Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said: ‘I have spoken to Sale Sharks this morning and neither the club or Premiership Rugby will take risks with people’s health.
‘Together we won’t compromise our commitment that matches will only happen if it is safe to do so, therefore the game is off. Today’s decision demonstrates that commitment.
‘Our first thoughts are now with those at the club, both players and management, who have tested positive and we wish them a speedy recovery. We mustn’t forget we have a significant number of people at one of our clubs with Covid-19, and we will give the Sharks all the support they need.
‘We know everyone at Sale Sharks will be devastated, and we share their disappointment that their season ends this way. But we can’t jeopardise the health of any players, staff or management at any of our clubs. This is why we took action at the weekend to prevent the match going ahead on its original date, and again today to cancel the game.
‘We all love rugby and want it to thrive and grow but sport has to be put in perspective compared to the devastating effects of Covid-19. We aren’t prepared to take unnecessary risks with people’s health.
‘We stated there was no room in the calendar for matches to be postponed but last weekend the health of everyone involved took precedent to ensure the Sale Sharks squad could be tested again, following the initial positive tests. Those concerns were proved today when we saw an additional eight positive tests. People fight hard for points in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, and for a place in the semi-final, but everyone agrees this has to take second place to people’s health and well-being.
‘Covid-19 has created the biggest challenges rugby has ever faced, as it threatens the future of the game, but with this case resolved, it is now crucial we now look forward to two compelling Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-finals on Saturday, which are followed by two of our clubs contesting European Finals the weekend after and our season ending on a high at Twickenham Stadium on 24 October.’
As required under the Professional Game Board’s minimum operating standards, Sale Sharks will now complete their contact tracing and isolate any contacts (of those players who tested positive) for a period of 14 days.
An independent RFU audit of the track-and-trace processes at Sale Sharks is also being undertaken.
The Premiership top four will therefore remain unchanged from the weekend’s results.
The table-topping Exeter Chiefs are set to face third-placed Bath in the second semi-final on Saturday, while Wasps will host the Bristol Bears earlier in the day.
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