French rugby chiefs have condemned the decision to cancel Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash between Toulouse and Cardiff as “scandalous and totally unfounded”.
Rene Bouscatel, president of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby that oversees France's professional game and a former president of Toulouse, said LNR's directors will meet "as a matter of urgency" when possible legal action will be discussed.
The game, due to take place in Toulouse, was cancelled following a number of positive Covid-19 tests in the hosts’ camp.
Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said that Cardiff had been awarded the fixture by a 28-0 scoreline with five match points.
It leaves Toulouse’s hopes of reaching the knock-out phase hanging by a thread. They currently occupy seventh place in Pool B – a position good enough to progress – but they could now miss out if other results go against them this weekend.
And it also puts Cardiff in the qualification picture, which is remarkable in itself after they tackled Toulouse and Harlequins before Christmas without numerous players due to quarantining in South Africa – where they had been due to play two United Rugby Championship fixtures – and on their return to the UK.
The decision also means Connacht have qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup for a first time ahead of their final pool game away to Stade Francais on Sunday
In a statement, LNR said: “Following the announcement of the EPCR to cancel the Champions Cup match between Stade Toulousain and Cardiff Rugby, the LNR condemns a scandalous and totally unfounded decision.
“Toulouse has put together a group of players to field a team fit to play the match, in full compliance with EPCR health regulations and the French health protocol.
“The EPCR’s Covid-19 protocol stipulates that the EPCR applies and defers to the protocol established by the league to which each club belongs, and adheres to the position of the medical authority of this league regarding the possibility for a club to play the match when positive cases are declared.
“In the case of Stade Toulousain, the commission of expertise Covid-19 of the NRL [LNR] has communicated its position Thursday evening, January 20th to the EPCR – this position being that the club could play the match against Cardiff Rugby.
“The decision of the EPCR is therefore taken in violation of its own regulations. It is incomprehensible and seriously prejudices the club and the fairness of the competition.”
Bouscatel added: “The Champions Cup is a very prestigious competition. Its organisers cannot afford to make arbitrary decisions that are contrary to its own regulations. This decision is irresponsible.
“I have decided to convene an LNR board of directors’ meeting as a matter of urgency to discuss the follow-up, including legal action, to be taken on this decision.”
The Cardiff squad and management had not left Wales, with their scheduled charter flight from Cardiff Wales Airport being cancelled on Friday morning.
EPCR said: “Following a meeting of an independent match risk assessment committee, EPCR has been advised that the Heineken Champions Cup, round four fixture between Stade Toulousain and Cardiff Rugby scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday, 22 January) at Stade Ernest-Wallon cannot go ahead.
“Discussions with Stade Toulousain and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby took place before the match risk assessment committee, made up of medical doctors from EPCR’s medical advisory group as well as independent medical specialists, advised EPCR of its concerns as Stade Toulousain had recorded a significant number of positive Covid-19 test results from within its tournament squad.
“And with the risk of further infection deemed to be too great, regrettably the decision was made to cancel the fixture.”
Newcastle’s European Challenge Cup game against Toulon on Saturday, meanwhile, has been cancelled due to coronavirus cases at the Gallagher Premiership club.
EPCR said Newcastle had informed them they were not in a position to fulfil the fixture at Stade Felix-Mayol.
The Falcons said nine positive Covid-19 tests had been recorded following Newcastle’s European Challenge Cup trip to Biarritz seven days ago.
As a result, Public Health England advised Newcastle not to travel to France.