EXCLUSIVE: Premiership rugby in coronavirus chaos as 16 players and a number of staff test positive at Sale… but club insist they could patch a team together for crunch Worcester clash as sides scramble for play-off spots
- The Premiership climax has been plunged into turmoil after an outbreak at Sale
- Sale Sharks suffered a coronavirus outbreak on eve of Premiership’s huge finale
- They could be forced to forfeit their crunch clash with Worcester on Sunday
- League directors granted a 24-hour delay to Friday’s team announcement
- Sale now have until midday to pull together a 23-man matchday squad
English rugby was left in chaos on Friday night after Sale suffered an outbreak of Covid-19 on the eve of the Premiership’s grandstand finale.
The club’s crucial final-round match against Worcester on Sunday was thrown into doubt after 16 players and a number of staff tested positive.
It is the news that every sport has been dreading, with professional clubs undergoing rigorous testing procedures to allow fixtures to go ahead.
Sale suffered an outbreak of coronavirus on the eve of the Premiership’s grandstand finale
The climax of the Gallagher Premiership season could be thrown into chaos after the news
League directors granted a 24-hour delay to Friday’s team announcement, giving Sale until midday Saturday to pull together a 23-man matchday squad.
But Sale on Friday night were insisting they could patch together a team and that the match would still go ahead.
The club must now draft in emergency cover, or dip into their academy reserves, as their hopes of reaching the top four were dealt a huge blow.
Should Sale forfeit the game, which they were expected to win, then Bristol would need just one point from their game against London Irish to join Exeter, Wasps and Bath in the play-offs. Worcester do not intend to travel to the AJ Bell Stadium until Sunday morning and, if the game is called off, are expected to be granted an automatic 20-0 victory.
News come as a huge blow to Sales Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond ahead of the finale
Sale were understood to be scrambling together a squad on Friday bringing in 38-year-old former All Black centre Sam Tuitupou — who has been retired for the last 18 months.
Speaking after the news broke exclusively on MailOnline, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: ‘I’m not sure what happens next — it would depend on how many players they have available from the squad who weren’t in contact with those 16.
‘As soon as you’ve got a positive test you’ve got to determine who else needs to be isolated right away.’ The outbreak has also put Northampton on red alert, after the two sides met in the Premiership on Tuesday night.
Bath coach Stuart Hooper said testing was still worth doing to keep clubs as safe as possible
Northampton’s analysts were on Friday night reviewing footage to see which of their players had extended contact with the positive cases and would need to isolate.
The Saints already have just one fit loosehead prop and could find themselves unable to field a team for Sunday’s game against Gloucester.
Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper said: ‘All the documentation is around whether you have available players to fulfil a fixture. There are conversations that happen around the safety of a game but nothing we’ve had to deal with yet, so I don’t know where that goes to.
‘There are pretty giant ifs, buts and maybes so let’s see what happens. We have competed hard all the way through and we have to keep on doing that.
‘If you go to any club, the training environments are different. They are incredibly safe and all the checks are done. But it is something that is there, it is real.’
The latest screening programme results, from September 22, revealed five positive cases from 1,056 tests throughout the league. The results from this week’s tests will be announced on Saturday.
FINAL PREMIERSHIP FIXTURES
Sunday October 4, 15:00 kick off
Gloucester v Northampton Saints
Leicester Tigers v Harlequins
London Irish v Bristol Bears
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
Saracens v Bath
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs