Premiership rugby will take a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’, with no games for a fortnight, choosing not to fill the gap left by the suspension of the European Cup over Covid fears.
Both the Champions and Challenge Cups will now be paused until at least the Spring after the French government banned their teams playing sides from the UK and Ireland.
The final two pool rounds were due to be played this weekend and next, but organisers have confirmed they are off.
The European Cup will be immediately suspended after the French government banned their clubs from playing teams from the UK and Ireland over Covid fears
Both the Champions and Challenge Cups will now be paused until at least the Spring
Top teams in the Premiership then wanted the league to move two rounds forward and continue domestic fixtures – with Exeter’s Rob Baxter, Bristol’s Pat Lam and Wasps’ Lee Blackett all advocating that – but the decision was taken to stand down until the end of the month.
Premiership Rugby Chief Executive, Darren Childs said: ‘The welfare of everyone involved in Premiership Rugby is crucial to us and this break in the season gives us the chance to hand some much-needed rest to our hard-working players, management, staff and match officials.
‘The Gallagher Premiership Rugby season will return – as scheduled – on Friday 29 January when Bristol Bears host Bath Rugby live on BT Sport.’
Before the Premiership had made their decision Blackett at Wasps said: ‘I’ve had players messaging me over the weekend wanting to know what’s going on.
‘Players are not just texting to see if they can make some plan or have a holiday or something, they genuinely want to play, and if we don’t play, genuinely our players will be gutted.
The final two pool rounds were due to be played this weekend and next, but are now off
‘Some guys have come back from internationals had a couple of weeks off, so we can talk about those guys there, they’re desperate to carry on playing. It’s easier with the form we’re in and everyone wants to carry on.
‘But I think at this moment in time, with everything that is going on in the world, our players feel really lucky to be doing what they’re doing.
‘These guys are in a really lucky position. They know that, and they’re desperate to keep doing it.
‘We’re very much on a roll at the moment and feel with our internationals here we want to take as much advantage as possible before they go to the Six Nations.
‘I think a lot of other clubs will be like that.
‘Also as a supporter, surely you want to see Premiership sides putting international players out? If we do go back to the Premiership, which I hope we do, I think it’s in the game’s best interests.’
The English Premiership, French Top 14 and Pro 14 leagues must decide how to fill the gap
Earlier in the day European bosses EPCR suspended their competitions, saying:
‘Following a directive from the French authorities that the participation of TOP 14 clubs in the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup at the current time constitutes too great a public health risk, EPCR has no choice but to announce today (Monday) that the 2020/21 tournaments are temporarily suspended.
‘EPCR and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) took part in a meeting by audio conference last week with representatives of the French ministries of the Interior, Health and Sport, as well as of the President’s office.
‘Notable updates to EPCR’s COVID-19 protocols were presented to the French authorities, including the addition of PCR tests no earlier than three days before matches in the tournaments, conforming to French government guidelines and supplementing the existing, meticulous contact tracing measures put in place with a view to limiting the risk of transmission.
‘Against the backdrop of the recent detection of a new strain of coronavirus, the French government has directed that French clubs postpone their participation in EPCR’s tournaments for the month of January, both for matches scheduled in France and for those due to be played in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
‘On the basis of this directive, EPCR had no choice but to temporarily suspend the pool stage of the Heineken Champions Cup and the preliminary stage of the Challenge Cup.
The upcoming men’s Six Nations tournament remains unaffected for now amid covid fears
‘While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, and prioritising the health and welfare of players and club staff, EPCR, in conjunction with its shareholder leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to resume and complete the tournaments as soon as practicable.’
According to reports across the Channel the French Sports Ministry blocked the games from happening, worried about a spread of what they are referring to as the ‘English’ strain of the virus.
In a letter to the clubs they wrote: ‘I confirm that the government is asking French professional rugby clubs to postpone their participation in European Cup matches until early February 2021, both for matches organized in France and those taking place in British and Irish soil.’
In France the Top 14 league has moved quickly and will play four games this weekend that were previously postponed due to Covid positives.
So far the men’s Six Nations is unaffected by this situation.