Munster’s Champions Cup matches in real doubt as they remain in South Africa

With South Africa on a travelling red list, it’s difficult to see how the URC can proceed

Munster are still working on securing a way home from South Africa. Photo: Gordon Arons/Inpho

Munster are still working on securing a way home from South Africa. Photo: Gordon Arons/Inpho

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Munster’s upcoming Heineken Champions Cup games away to Wasps next Sunday week and Castres at Thomond Park six days later are in serious doubt as a result of their travelling squad being forced to remain in South Africa after PCR testing identified one positive case of Covid-19.

It is not clear whether the positive case was for the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Cardiff have also been obliged to remain in isolation at their hotel in Cape Town after the club confirmed two positive Covid cases, one of which is suspected of being Omicron. Cardiff are due to host the champions Toulouse next Saturday week.

By contrast, the other two United Rugby Championship (URC) sides who had been in South African prior to their two games being called off, the Scarlets and Zebre, have managed to fly out to Europe.

With direct flights from South Africa to Britain being halted on Friday, the Munster and Cardiff squads had been making plans to join the Scarlets and Zebre on the same charter plane but according to a statement issued on Sunday by the province: “After arriving at their hotel in Cape Town late last night the squad underwent a round of PCR testing ahead of today’s possible departure.

“The returning results have identified one positive case.

In taking all precautions and prioritising the health and wellbeing of everyone Munster Rugby will not travel today and will return to their hotel for an isolation period as a matter of priority.

“The province will await further guidance from the health authorities.”

It remains to be seen how long the Munster squad will now have to remain in South Africa after which they will have to undergo a further ten days of hotel quarantine on returning to Ireland.

This means they will have little or no time to prepare for the Wasps game on December 12th and, conceivably, may still be in quarantine come that date, which would be their first game in seven weeks.

In addition to the worrying position in South Africa, their season is suspended.

Meanwhile, the URC itself is in disarray as the vagaries entailed in a competition played in six countries and both hemispheres in a time of a pandemic have again been exposed.

Red list

With South Africa placed on a travelling red list by Europe and Britain indefinitely, it’s difficult to see how the URC can proceed as planned or with their quartet of Super Rugby franchises sides taking any further part this season.

Aside from the cost, there can’t be much appetite among their Springboks contingent for travelling to Europe en masse and being based in Europe after so many months away from home.

The URC have given no update since confirming that the round six and seven games in South Africa were postponed last Friday, stating: “A period of assessment will now be required to better understand the impact of these new travel restrictions and how to reschedule these games within the current season. Given the nature and speed of these developments, URC will provide further updates at the appropriate time through official channels only.”

In any event, preferably sooner rather than later, it looks like they may have to redesign the competition.

Meanwhile, Ulster have pulled level with Leinster atop what is now a distorted table after their surprise 20-10 win at the RDS on Saturday night in front of a 14,625 attendance.

After the month-long hiatus, it was an opportunity missed in a campaign designed with less matches for several Leinster players, as Leo Cullen acknowledges afterwards in advance of a six-day turnaround before hosting an in-form Connacht next Friday night.

“When you chop and change the team, you run the risk around the cohesion piece. But it does create competition amongst the group as well, which is positive. So, obviously when a group don’t deliver, then in many ways, sometimes that’s their chance gone. That’s the harsh reality that some guys need to face, for sure.

“We will have a good chunk of players who will return this week. We will see what sort of shape some of those guys are in. We’ve got a very, very short week coming up against a team that has a lot of cohesion – that have trained and played together. They have worked hard.

“They looked good, Connacht, when I watched them against Ospreys,” said Cullen in reference to Connacht running in seven tries despite wild west weather at the Sportsground last Friday night.

“It’s going to be a real challenge for us, so we need to make sure we are up for the challenge, both mentally and physically in terms of trying to deliver a more accurate performance.”

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