European rugby matches could go ahead as scheduled this weekend, after the French government relaxed rules for travelers entering the country from the UK. Newcastle, Bath and Sale will all play in France this weekend and had expressed reservations about travel if restrictions remained, but Thursday’s announcement gives those parties the green light.
The clubs were willing to boycott their matches if a ruling remained in effect requiring all travelers to remain in isolation for 48 hours before producing a negative test. The clubs feared that members of their party could be stranded in France for 10 days, but from Friday morning fully vaccinated travelers will only need to show a negative test 24 hours before departure.
It means Newcastle’s Challenge Cup match in Biarritz on Friday, Bath’s Champions Cup clash with La Rochelle on Saturday and Sunday’s match between Clermont and Sale now go ahead as scheduled. The Scarlets will also be in action on Sunday on their way to Bordeaux.
However, restrictions remain on players and staff who have not been fully vaccinated, and rugby’s sales director Alex Sanderson has admitted that this will mean the Sharks will not be at full strength on Sunday. Those not fully vaccinated will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, which in turn will cause potential headaches for England, who travel to France for their final Six Nations game on March 19, unless foreign athletes are granted an exemption from the French government. About 96% of Premiership players are fully vaccinated, but England and Exeter centre, Henry Slade, has previously explained why he wouldn’t get any shots.
Nevertheless, the French government’s decision to “ease the specific health border control measures decided in December for vaccinated travelers from the United Kingdom” is a boost for the organizers of the Champions and Challenge Cups, European Professional Club Rugby. It had to cancel seven games – now marked a 0-0 draw – in December when France effectively closed borders with the UK and struggled to save this season’s competitions.
“The uncertainty of it has created fear among many people who organize everything,” said Dean Richards, Newcastle rugby director. “I saw the relaxation of the rules being introduced by the French government and I fully welcome that. We’ve been talking about it every day. Actually on an hourly basis. You have to bring 40 people to a place, but you don’t know exactly whether you are going or not and going to pay for it or not.