The French sports ministry has recommended that European matches against British clubs be postponed amid the Covid-19 crisis in a blow to the Champions and Challenge Cups as the Six Nations competition also appeared threatened on Saturday.
The Ministry of Solidarity and Health informed organisers the French National Rugby League (LNR) and European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) on Thursday that the government wanted short-term measures introduced to stop the matches going ahead.
In a statement sent on Saturday the sports ministry said “the French Government is moving, in the short term, towards the adoption of measures to restrict or even prohibit the participation of French team sports clubs in (rugby) matches including teams from the United Kingdom”.
The ministry said it was writing this weekend to invite the LNR to postpone the next matches with British clubs “in accordance with the wishes expressed by several professional French rugby clubs over the last few days”.
A source within the LNR said it would follow recommendations from the ministry but had not received them yet.
Leinster’s trip to Franklin’s Gardens next Friday is already in doubt due to a Covid outbreak in the Northampton Saints squad that has forced a shutdown of their training facility at least until next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Ulster are due to play Gloucester in Belfast on Saturday while Munster are scheduled to welcome Clermont Auvergne to Limerick. On Sunday Connacht are due to meet Bristol Bears away.
Among scheduled Champions Cup matches involving French and British clubs are Toulon v Scarlets, Montpellier v Wasps, Lyon v Glasgow, Racing 92 v Harlequins and Toulouse v Ulster over the weekends of January 15th and 22nd.
A domino effect caused by these potential cancellations could very well impact next month’s Six Nations and the entire rugby schedule in 2021.
The sports ministry added that it would set up a specific meeting on the Six Nations at the beginning of next week, without saying who would take part.
The Six Nations starts on February 6th, with France v Scotland on February 28th the first game involving a French-British clash.
Countries around the world have in recent days closed their borders to Britain and South Africa following the identification of new, fast-spreading variants of the novel coronavirus in those countries.
Earlier this week, the French health ministry said 22 cases of new variants of the coronavirus had been detected in France.
The ministry also said in a statement that two high-risk clusters that may include the new Covid-19 variant first detected in Britain had been found in the Brittany and Paris regions.