Champions Cup: Leinster v Toulon off due to Covid-19 case in French squad

Irish province likely to receive walkover into quarters following Good Friday cancellation

Leinster’s clash with Toulon at the RDS has been called off. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Leinster’s clash with Toulon at the RDS has been called off. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Based on previous examples of games being cancelled, Leinster are likely to be awarded a walkover after their Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie against Toulon, which was scheduled for the RDS this evening, was called off.

It transpires that the match was cancelled due to a Toulon player testing positive for Covid-19 last Wednesday, even though he was put into isolation and remained in France while the remainder of the squad travelled yesterday to Dublin, where they have since completed all PCR tests without any positive cases.

Having formally cancelled the game just before 1pm, an EPCR statement has since confirmed: “Following a meeting by video conference of a Match Day Medical Risk Assessment Committee comprising medical leads from the unions, league bodies and both clubs, with input from the public health authorities in Ireland, it has been decided to cancel the Heineken Champions Cup, Round of 16 match between Leinster Rugby and RC Toulon which was scheduled for this evening (Friday 2 April) at the RDS Arena.

“The Committee, which received independent medical advice from Dr Brendan Payne (England) and Dr Daniel Koch (Switzerland), was informed that an RC Toulon player, who did not travel to Ireland, had tested positive for COVID-19 as part of the club’s routine testing.

“Although the RC Toulon players and staff who had travelled undertook an additional round of PCR testing in Dublin yesterday (Thursday 1 April) which revealed no positive results, the Committee concluded that there were a number of high-risk contacts with the player who had tested positive and deemed the match unsafe to play with the participation of those identified contacts.

“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 to facilitate the staging of the fixture, it was decided that the match could not be played safely given both the current public health guidelines in Ireland and EPCR’s COVID-19 protocol.

“A Match Result Resolution Committee will be convened as soon as practicable to determine the outcome of the fixture.”

However, tournament rules state: “If a match cannot be played safely, it will be cancelled and the club whose COVID-19 status has NOT forced the cancellation will progress to the next round.”

In all likelihood therefore, Leinster will advance to next weekend’s quarter-finals, where they will be away to the winners of the Exeter-Lyon game, which kicks off at 5.30pm tomorrow (Saturday).

The Toulon owner and president Bernard Lemaitre, who bought out previous owner Mourad Boudjellal last year, has reacted swiftly and indignantly. “It’s disgusting, the player tested positive on Wednesday and immediately isolated. The EPCR was immediately informed, but let us go to Dublin. For more than 24 hours. And despite a total negative re-test of the players last night at 8pm, these people made this decision less than five hours before the match.”

This is not the first time Toulon and EPCR have been at war with each other, as Toulon’s refusal to play the Scarlets less than two hours before kick-off over fears of Covid safety led to that game being one of four cancelled that weekend, with the Welsh side awarded a 28-0 victory.

Toulon had been informed by EPCR, the competition organisers, that the game was safe to go ahead after a Scarlets player who had tested positive in the week had been withdrawn from training, along with those he had been in close contact with. Toulon disagreed and refused to comply.

Given the more conservative or stricter protocols in Ireland compared to France, it’s quite likely that there would not have been uniform agreement on the decision to cancel today’s game among the Medical Advisory Group.

The cancellation of a tie between four-time and three-time winners further damages the integrity of a tournament that also saw the entire third and fourth rounds of the pool stages being called off in January. As a means of salvaging the competition and ensuring a greater means of fairness, a round of 16 was created this weekend instead of two-legged quarter-finals.

Leo Cullen’s side were bidding to beat Toulon for the first time in five attempts, fresh from their Pro14 final victory over Munster last weekend. It was to be the opening knockout tie of the round, with Gloucester hosting the Ronan O’Gara coached La Rochelle and Munster hosting Toulouse at Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm).

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