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Ulster and Leinster clash to go ahead despite Covid-19 cluster in Ulster academy

One member of the senior squad identified as a potential conact has begun self-isolation

Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The Ulster versus Leinster match at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday is currently going ahead as planned despite a cluster of Covid-19 cases in the Ulster academy squad.

“We’ve no reason to believe it will affect the game at this point,” said Stephen McNamara, the IRFU director of communications. “Testing of all four provincial teams was undertaken and we will advise of results when we get them.”

One member of the Ulster senior squad has already begun 14 days of self-isolation after he was identified as a potential contact.

“Following confirmation of multiple academy players testing positive for Covid-19, we are closely following public health advice in line with the IRFU’s return to play protocols,” said Ulster medical director Michael Webb. “As a result, we have taken a number of precautionary measures as we await the results of further testing. We are supporting the individuals involved and all will continue to be medically monitored.

“Our top priority is to ensure the health and safety of our players and staff, and we will continue to work closely with both the IRFU and Public Health Authority (PHA) as we look to make a safe and measured return to rugby.”

Besides one case of the virus in the Munster academy squad - which forced another six players to enter quarantine, all of them subsequently testing negative - this is the first outbreak of Covid-19 after 915 tests on professional rugby players, across all four provinces, that previously came back negative.

“As soon as the cases were identified,” read an Ulster statement, “Ulster Rugby immediately stood down all training of both the academy and senior squads and sought to identify any potential close contacts. All individuals potentially exposed to the virus have already commenced self-isolating.

“The PHA has been contacted, and the contact tracing process has started, in line with public health advice.

“One senior squad member has been identified as a potential contact and is already self-isolating. Routine PCR testing, part of the IRFU’s return to play protocols, took place with the senior squad today [WEDNESDAY], with results due to be released tomorrow in line with existing processes in place from previous testing rounds.

“Given this is a confidential health matter for the individuals involved, Ulster Rugby will not be making any further comment at this stage.”

Ulster are due to play two matches at the Aviva Stadium, this Saturday against Leinster and the following weekend’s Pro 14 semi-final, and the results of testing in Belfast will determine if the domestic season can be completed.

Ulster are also scheduled to travel to Toulouse for the Champions Cup quarter-final on September 20th.