European competition will proceed as planned for the remainder of the pool stage after it was confirmed that clubs and match officials will be granted exemptions from French travel restrictions.
The rules imposed on travellers from the UK, which include the requirement to self-isolate for at least 48 hours after entering France, threatened to scupper the final two rounds of the group stage.
But the tournament organiser, EPCR, has been told that exemptions for what is termed the “pursuit of an economic activity” applies to players, coaching staff and officials taking part in the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.
Six games between French and British clubs from the Champions Cup and two from the Challenge Cup are scheduled to take place next weekend, starting with Newcastle’s trip to Biarritz on 14 January. The announcement saves the group stage from becoming untenable due to a host of postponed fixtures.
EPCR still faces the challenging task of finding a window in the packed rugby calendar to restage those matches from round two that were called off because of the French travel restrictions. Rather than issue a 28-0 defeat to one team, as happens in the event of an outbreak of Covid, it was decided to find a new date for games that fell victim to the safety measures brought in at short notice.
Bristol have yet to play after their opener against the Scarlets fell to coronavirus before their trip to Stade Français was aborted.
“While recognising that these are particularly challenging times for all its stakeholders, EPCR will continue to work with the leagues and unions so that this month’s matches can be played safely,” a statement read. “EPCR is optimistic that this season’s tournaments will be played to a successful conclusion.
“In addition, discussions are ongoing regarding the five Champions Cup and two Challenge Cup round two fixtures which were postponed due to unforeseen circumstances arising from changes to border controls between France and the UK.”