Munster’s hopes of fulfilling Wasps fixture boosted by relaxation on player registration

All clubs will can supplement squads with an unlimited number of previously unregistered players

Young Munster fullback Patrick Campbell is one of a number of Munster academy players set to  be registered for their European Champions Cup campaign after EPCR changed its rules. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Young Munster fullback Patrick Campbell is one of a number of Munster academy players set to be registered for their European Champions Cup campaign after EPCR changed its rules. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Munster’s chances of fulfilling their opening Heineken Champions Cup pool game against Wasps in Coventry on Sunday week have been greatly enhanced by the decision of the tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) to allow clubs to supplement their squads with an unlimited number of previously unregistered players.

Likewise, Cardiff and the Scarlets will also have scope to register additional players in light of their travelling parties to South Africa being placed in UK government hotels for 10 days quarantining, thereby ruling them out of their games against Toulouse and Bristol on Saturday week.

In light of Munster, Cardiff and Scarlets having their scheduled URC round six and seven matches in South Africa postponed, the various shareholders in EPCR, ie the Unions and specifically the leagues, were prompted to consider a blanket rule change rather than granting the affected clubs special dispensation.

An agreement has been reached after days of negotiations and an EPCR statement has confirmed: “Following consultation with the leagues and unions, it has been decided to extend the first registration date from last month to allow all participating clubs to supplement their squads with an unlimited number of previously unregistered players.

“All new players will have to be registered on or before Wednesday, 8 December at midday (UK and Irish time).”

Effectively this means that Munster, along with Cardiff and Scarlets, can register previously unregistered players. Among them are likely to be young players affiliated to the IRFU’s National Talent Squad who were added to the academy two weeks ago, such as the 19-year-old Young Munster fullback Patrick Campbell, a former Cork All-Ireland minor football champion, the 19-year-old Garryowen outhalf Tony Butler and 18-year-old Cobh Pirates lock Edwin Edogbo.

Technically, it may be possible for some of the cohort of Munster players who returned from South Africa to Ireland on Wednesday to maintain fitness levels over a 10-day period in isolation at “their own locations”, be it private residencies or hotels, and be available for the Wasps game.

A more likely scenario though is that Munster will now supplement their squad sufficiently with academy and AIL players to bring a matchday panel of 23 to Coventry.

Munster currently have 58 players registered with EPCR and excluding the 34 who travelled to South Africa, of the remaining 24, only 15 have been among those training under academy manager Ian Costello in Limerick this week. They include eight internationals and five uncapped academy players.

The 15 players are – *denotes academy player – hookers Declan Moore and Scott Buckley*, props David Kilcoyne and Mark Donnelly*, locks Tadhg Beirne and Eoin O’Connor* and backrows Peter O’Mahony and Daniel Okeke*, scrumhalves Conor Murray and Ethan Coghlan*, outhalf Joey Carbery, centres Damian de Allende and Keith Earls and back three player Andrew Conway.

Of the nine players currently sidelined or, in the case of winger Conor Phillips currently with the Irish Sevens in Dubai, it is possible that Chris Farrell might be fit for the Wasps game. However, in addition to longer-term absentees John Hodnett, winger Calvin Nash, prop Roman Salanoa, and RG Snyman, the prognosis for the 23-year-old prop James French, academy lock Paddy Kelly, scrumhalf Rowan Osborne and academy fullback Jonathan Wren is less optimistic.

Clearly, Munster’s biggest concern is in the frontrow, where they have only two props and two hookers who are both registered and in training this week. With player health and safety in mind, only Munster know whether they can put together a squad to play Wasps, but this EPCR rule change certainly enhances their chances of doing so.

The EPCR statement also outlined the following Covid-19 mitigation protocols will be in place until further notice.

– All players, coaching staff and essential club personnel must return a negative Covid test result in match week. The test results can be utilised to facilitate cross-border travel to matches.

– Only essential club personnel will be permitted to avail of elite sportspersons quarantine exemptions for cross-border travel. Personnel from outside the high-performance environment will not be exempt.

– Clubs will be required to abide by the regulations imposed by local authorities with regards to travel and accommodation restrictions.

– A Red Zone restriction for operational purposes will be in place at all match venues.

The statement added: “With no alternative weekends available in the 2021/22 season calendar, EPCR is in regular dialogue with the leagues and clubs to ensure that all possible measures are considered so that the matches take place as scheduled.

“While looking forward to another series of compelling pool stage fixtures, EPCR is mindful of how recent events have impacted on Cardiff Rugby, Munster Rugby, Scarlets and Zebre Parma in particular, and the tournament organiser would like to extend its best wishes to the players and staff who currently remain in South Africa, as well as to the players and staff who have been repatriated and are currently isolating.”

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