England’s international curtain-raiser against the Barbarians this Sunday is in major doubt following a number of coronavirus protocol breaches among the invitational team.
The Rugby Football Union is carrying out an urgent review into whether the game can safely go ahead at Twickenham, with those involved in the protocol breach stood down from the Quilter Cup clash.
Unless suitable replacements can be found by 3pm on Friday – who have also been “meeting the code of conduct standards” and have “an appropriate testing history” – the game will be called off, leaving England without their one and only warm-up match ahead of their Six Nations showdown with Italy next week.
Although the immediate separation of the guilty players from the rest of the squad has stemmed the risk of further infection among the Barbarians, the fixture cannot go ahead unless the invitational side is able to safely field a side that not only can match up to an international calibre side, but that can also prevent any risk of Covid-19 being spread to Eddie Jones’s squad.
Those players who breached the requirement to remain at the team hotel have been banned from playing this weekend, and the Barbarians have “expressed their extreme disappointment in the conduct of the players involved and have taken all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the players and staff within the bubble”, according to the RFU.
A statement from the Barbarians management added: “There has been a breach of the agreed Covid-19 code of conduct which every player and staff member signed prior to attending camp. We are extremely disappointed in the actions of the players involved and do not in any way condone their conduct.
“The RFU are now assessing whether the Quilter Cup can happen and we’re working with them to do everything we can to make this possible.
“We’re proud of those players who acted responsibly showing an understanding of the importance of getting rugby back for fans.”
An RFU statement read: “On the evening of Wednesday 21 October a number of Barbarians players breached the agreed Covid code of conduct protocol by leaving their hotel bubble without permission and without informing organisers about their whereabouts.
“On their return, the players were immediately separated from the rest of the group in the bubble in order to protect its integrity.
“The players leaving their Covid-secure environment has resulted in a potential risk of Covid transmission from individuals outside the bubble, and even with a further round of PCR testing for this group it will not be possible to guarantee these players are not infectious in the period up to and including the match.
“Therefore to protect the safety of other participants, these players cannot be permitted to remain with the Barbarians squad and play in Sunday’s fixture.
“If sufficient new players with an appropriate testing history and who have been meeting the code of conduct standards can be brought into the Barbarians camp then the game will go ahead.”
England were due to face the Barbarians on Sunday in what is their first international since the 7 March, when they beat Wales at Twickenham in the Six Nations. Their final-weekend trip to Rome was postponed after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the match being scheduled for next Saturday.
England are also due to play Georgia, Wales and Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup in November before a final match against an unknown opponent to wrap up the tournament, but this latest development leaves Jones’s squad potentially losing their only tune-up match before finishing their Six Nations campaign.
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