The chairman of Bristol Bears’ European group rivals Scarlets has called on the Heineken Champions Cup organisers to consider rescheduling the match between the two clubs.
United Rugby Championship side Scarlets are due to play their opening Heineken Champions Cup tie at Ashton Gate on December 11.
But 32 of the Welsh regions’ squad of players are currently in a 10-day quarantine at a Belfast hotel after their trip to South Africa to play league fixtures was dramatically cut short and the players repatriated following growing Covid-19 concerns following the new emergence of the new Omicron variant.
South Africa has been put back on the UK government’s red list until further information is gathered about the Omicron variant.
As things stand the Scarlets players in quarantine will be released the day before the scheduled European game having not trained for two weeks.
Should none of those players be available, then according to the BBC the region only have 14 fit players available for the fixture, with seven members of the senior squad and seven on development contracts.
Speaking to BBC Sport Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack said: “If we were to play Bristol without the people who are in Ulster right now there are four or five positions where we physically do not have a body to fill that position.
“We are not coming out of quarantine until December 10 and a lot of these boys in Belfast haven’t played a game of rugby since October 22. EPCR has got to look at player welfare here.
“Without the 32 players in quarantine, we’d have to play development players and academy players – some of them just out of school in their first season of senior rugby – as well as semi-pro players, who juggle their rugby commitments with full-time work and put them up against a quality side like Bristol.
“That wouldn’t be good for the integrity of the competition or those individuals. None of us had any idea that this situation was going to occur, and that South Africa was going to be put on the red list.
“The URC is a new league and what we are trying to do is support the league’s aspirations by sending our very best available team to South Africa to perform as best as we can. That’s us doing the right thing by the league and rugby.
“For us to get penalised for that really doesn’t sit very well with me and we need to find a fair solution because forfeiting the game for something that was out of our control isn’t right.”
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) regulations state if the Scarlets are unable to fulfil their round one fixture, it would result in the game being forfeited, a 28-0 result declared and five match points allocated to Bristol.
As things stand Bristol expect the game to be played. A Bears club spokesman said: “The club have received no formal correspondence from EPCR or Scarlets and will continue to prepare for the fixture.”
Muderack added: “Ideally we would have been granted a sporting exemption which has been done in the past so that the team whilst remaining in isolation could have continued to train and prepare for upcoming fixtures..
“At the moment, the best the players can do in their hotel in Belfast is exercise as individuals within the confines of their own rooms as well as being allowed a short time slot outside to walk around in the car park.
“That is no preparation for a high-intensity game of European rugby. In our world, physical capacity is everything, if players are ‘under done’ it can be catastrophic for careers and have a direct increase to risk of injury.
“The Scarlets have a proud history in European competition and we have been looking forward to testing ourselves against two sides in Bristol and Bordeaux who have been up there among the best on the continent in recent years.
“It is hugely disappointing that we will not be allowed to do that on a level playing field.”
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