The Scarlets and Cardiff are planning to return to Wales as soon as possible after South Africa has been added to the UK Government’s travel red list.
The red listing comes just one day before the first United Rugby Championship games on South African soil. The Scarlets were set to face the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, whilst Cardiff was scheduled to take on the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Irish outfit Munster and Italian club Zebre Parma are also in South Africa and were set to face the Bulls and Stormers, respectively. All four European sides were set to play another round of matches next weekend.
UK officials sounded the alarm on Thursday night over a new variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 which has the potential to evade immunity built up by vaccination or prior infection.
Sajid Javid, the UK Health Secretary, said that flights to England from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.
Both the Scarlets and Cardiff issued statements on their Twitter feeds indicating their intention to depart South Africa at the earliest opportunity.
“Following the news of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, Scarlets would like to assure families and friends that we are making every effort to get our touring party back home to the UK as soon as possible,” read the Scarlets statement. “We will provide further updates as soon as we can.”
Meanwhile, the Cardiff Rugby statement said: “With the situation in South Africa having changed so quickly, we are now looking to repatriate our staff ASAP. For concerned families and friends, please rest assured that our focus is to ensure the safety and welfare of our people and will keep you updated with any developments.”
It is not yet clear how Munster and Zebre will react to the developments.
Meanwhile, comments by Lions Rugby Company CEO Rudolf Straeuli have lent further weight to the concept of South African teams playing in the European Champions’ Cup next season.
At a meeting to present the Lions’ plans for 2022 and how to fit into South Africa’s season structure, Straeuli explained that the Lions would be playing, essentially, with two different squads, one for the Currie Cup and one for the United Rugby Championship and European competitions. It was not made clear whether that would include the Champions Cup or not, however.
It has also been mooted that the Currie Cup could start as early as January, which Straeuli explained would be decided in mid-December.