The final two rounds of group matches in rugby union’s European Champions and Challenge Cups will be cancelled, with both tournaments now moving straight into the knockout phase, the chief executive of England’s Premiership Rugby said Thursday.
This month’s concluding pool matches were postponed on Monday after the French government said the COVID-19 pandemic made it too risky for French teams to play at a time when a new variant was becoming increasingly widespread in Britain and Ireland.
COVID-19 hits European rugby
But Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said European Professional Club Rugby, the organisers of the European events, had now decided to do away with the remaining group games given the difficulty of rescheduling fixtures in an already congested schedule.
EPCR is set to decide on what format their competitions should now take, with a round of 16 one widely touted option when it comes to a restart.
“The decision was made very quickly by the executive at EPCR that we would not try to reschedule those games,” Childs told a conference call.
The British and Irish Lions are meant to tour South Africa following the end of the European campaign and Childs added: “There’s no space at the end of the season because of the Lions and we have no spare weekends in our season once we resume.”
Childs added: “To play European rounds when the Lions is taking place would have been very damaging to the European tournaments.
“Everyone is managing their domestic and international calendars to the best of their ability. The exact structure has not been agreed and we’ve already started those discussions.”
Earlier this week, French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said she needed further “guarantees” from other governments to allow France to face Ireland and England in the upcoming Six Nations.
France are set to open the tournament by hosting Italy on February 6 before heading to Dublin a week later and Twickenham on March 13.
Britain has been one of the countries hardest hit by the virus outbreak, with more than 83,000 people losing their lives after testing positive for COVID-19.
It is currently mired in its third, and worst, wave of the virus, registering record daily case numbers and death tolls blamed on a new strain of the disease.
“We keep the first match. On the other hand, against Ireland and England we absolutely need to have the necessary guarantees from these countries,” Maracineanu said.