Conclusion of Premiership season thrown into doubt by coronavirus pandemic

Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks – Gallagher Premiership – Franklin’s Gardens
Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks – Gallagher Premiership – Franklin’s Gardens - (Copyright PA Wire)
18:16pm, Sat 03 Oct 2020
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The conclusion of the Gallagher Premiership season is threatening to descend into chaos after Sale’s match against Worcester was rescheduled, while Gloucester were awarded a walkover win over Northampton.

Sale’s Sunday clash with the Warriors was called off after 16 of their players tested positive for coronavirus, but Premiership Rugby has announced that the game will now take place on Wednesday, subject to stringent retesting.

However, Northampton will not be given a second chance after withdrawing from their match against Gloucester due to all but two members of their front row having to self-isolate as a result of their match against Sale on Tuesday.

Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks – Gallagher Premiership – Franklin’s Gardens - (Copyright PA Wire)

The decision to hand Gloucester a 20-0 win means Worcester are denied any realistic chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions Cup, which they could have achieved had they beaten a depleted Sale and Gloucester lost to Northampton.

In addition, Sale will go into the projected Wednesday fixture knowing exactly what they have to do to seal a play-off place, with their main rivals Wasps and Bath set to face Exeter and Saracens respectively on Sunday, and Bristol travelling to London Irish.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said: “When we embarked on Rugby Restart back in August we said from the outset that the health and safety of everyone involved with Premiership Rugby was our priority.

“We completed eight of the nine rounds of Gallagher Premiership Rugby without losing a match so it is with great regret that we make this announcement today.

“We understand and fully sympathise with Northampton Saints’ position. They are in this position due to no fault of their own, but unfortunately they cannot fulfil the fixture.”

Although the cancellation clearly comes within league regulations, charges of inconsistency could be levelled at the governing body, whose rugby director Phil Winstanley clearly stated upon the resumption of the season in July that “no [cancelled] games would be replayed.”

Last month, French club Castres were forced to forfeit their European Challenge Cup tie against Leicester after three of their players tested positive for the virus.

Northampton expressed “deep frustration” at being forced to forfeit through no fault of their own, adding that their request to register loan players in order to complete the fixture had been denied.

The club said in a statement: “As soon as we were aware of the situation, we asked for permission to register loan players beyond the normal deadline in order that we could attempt to complete the fixture.

“We were advised that this dispensation will not be granted. We therefore have no option to bring in additional players as cover.

“We are extremely disappointed that our season has ended this way; an outbreak of coronavirus at another Premiership club has left us with no viable option other than to forfeit our game.”

Northampton added that none of their players are currently symptomatic.

Premiership Rugby confirmed on Saturday that 21 people, including 18 players, tested positive for coronavirus in the latest round of testing. The positive tests affect three different clubs, and include the 16 players from Sale.

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