Bristol Bears’ opening European Heineken Champions Cup fixture against the Scarlets scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled.
The Welsh region have forfeited the game, which was due to be played on Saturday at 5.30pm, handing Bristol a 28-0 victory.
The Scarlets have been forced to withdraw from the game as they are unable to raise a team for the fixture having had the majority of their first-team squad stuck in isolation for 10 days in a Belfast hotel after getting trapped in South Africa as the UK Government put the country on the travel red list following the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Scarlets were in the country to play the South African teams in the United Rugby Championship.
Last week Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack called for the game to be rescheduled but with no feasible gaps in the packed calendar European rugby organisers EPCR have called off the match.
Thirty-two of the Welsh regions’ squad of players and additional coaches are currently in a 10-day quarantine and will not be released until the day before the game having not trained collectively for two weeks and only been able to exercise individually in their rooms and in a car park
Excluding those in isolation, that left the United Rugby Championship side with just 14 fit players available for the fixture, with seven members of the senior squad and seven on development contracts.
Welsh region the Ospreys offered to loan players to their neighbours but with Toby Booth’s side hosting Sale Sharks on Sunday they were only ever going to be able to offer fringe players.
The official statement from EPCR reads:
“EPCR have been informed by Scarlets that due to player welfare concerns and the club’s inability to safely field a match day squad, they are not in a position to fulfil their Heineken Champions Cup, Round 1 fixture against Bristol Bears scheduled for Saturday, 11 December at Ashton Gate.
“The fixture in Pool B is therefore cancelled with Bristol Bears awarded the match on a 28-0, five match points basis, in accordance with the Tournament Rules.
“Scarlets, Bristol Bears and EPCR used their best endeavours to stage the match, however, this has not been possible and it is regrettable that the fixture is now cancelled.
“EPCR acknowledges the unfortunate circumstances which have impacted on Scarlets’ players and staff through no fault of their own, and would like to emphasise that awarding the match to Bristol Bears is a tournament management measure with the objective of ensuring that all fixtures in the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup are accounted for.
“EPCR has been in regular dialogue with Scarlets in recent days to offer guidance and support, and best wishes are extended to everyone at the club.”
Scarlets executive chairman Muderack added: “It is a decision we haven’t taken lightly.
“This is a great fixture between two great clubs, which supporters, players and staff on both sides were all looking forward to.
“Ultimately, though, the welfare of our players has to be our priority and following discussions with our staff it was felt there was too much risk to ask the players currently in quarantine to play a game of this magnitude and intensity just a day after coming out of quarantine.
“You have to remember, the squad have been in isolation since the news of this Omicron variant first emerged when they were still in Durban so it will be something like 15 days in all.
“Also, a lot of the players haven’t played since the Benetton game on October 22. As a club we have a duty of care to our players.
“With only 14 squad members training at the Parc, half of them young development players, we did look into the possibility of registering players from other regions and we have been grateful for the positive response from Ospreys and Dragons.
“But, any players we did loan would effectively be ‘cup-tied’ and become Scarlets players for the pool stages of the tournament, which has made that option a challenge as well.
“With the integrity of the competition in mind, we felt we were unable to put together a competitive match-day 23 that would be able to take the field against the Bears.
“We are all disappointed. I know a lot of fans had booked accommodation in Bristol and have been looking forward to this game for some time. But I am sure everyone will understand the situation we have found ourselves in through no fault of our own.
“I would also like to stress that we have returned no positive Covid-19 cases in all the rounds of PCR testing prior to leaving and since arriving in South Africa and Northern Ireland.
“We would like to thank everyone at Bristol Bears and EPCR for their understanding of our predicament and look forward to welcoming Pat Lam and his side to Parc y Scarlets for the return fixture in January.”
Bristol travel to Stade Francais next weekend on Sunday, December 19.
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