Sale’s hopes of reaching the play-offs have been reignited despite an outbreak of coronavirus cases at the club as Premiership Rugby announced the Sharks’ game against Worcester has been postponed until Wednesday, October 7.
With 16 of their players testing positive for the virus, Sale were staring at the prospect of having to forfeit their final regular-season fixture on Sunday, which would have led to an automatic 20-0 defeat.
Bristol would therefore have needed just a point at lowly London Irish to leapfrog Sale into the top four but after an “urgent review”, Premiership Rugby has decided to rearrange the crucial clash, under a number of conditions.
The governing body revealed the decision has been made after consultation with both clubs and Public Health England, although Sale must submit to an additional round of testing on Tuesday.
It is “essential” that any tests are clear for players to take part in the game and PHE must be satisfied with the results, while neither the Sharks nor Worcester will be able to register any new players beforehand.
Furthermore, Sale must submit to an independent audit of their track and trace processes before the game is played.
Darren Childs, chief executive at Premiership Rugby said: “There are still a number of health and safety hurdles to overcome before the match can be staged on Wednesday evening. (But) in light of the unprecedented situation facing Premiership Rugby we have been forced to postpone the match.
“Our priority is the health and well-being of everyone involved, and we won’t compromise this. But as this match has such a critical bearing on deciding the Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions, we wanted to do everything we could to play it.
“The team at Premiership Rugby has been working around the clock to come up with a solution and we’d like to thank Public Health England for their co-operation.”
Sale had insisted their match against Worcester would go ahead despite the spread of Covid-19 throughout the Manchester club, with a small number of backroom staff also returning positive tests, the PA news agency understands.
🏴 Uncertainty surrounds Sale v Worcester #GallagherPrem game.
📩 Sharks and Warriors release statements ahead of crucial match. https://t.co/5LwwVNYEAW
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) October 3, 2020
But after Sale had issued a statement saying the game would go ahead as scheduled, Worcester claimed the matter was still being discussed and Premiership Rugby waded in on Saturday morning after it had been made aware of positive tests at other clubs.
Sale currently lie fourth in the standings and need a win to guarantee their place in the semi-finals as Bristol are level-pegging with the Sharks, who are above the Bears on points difference alone.
Sale said in a statement: “Although a significant number of positive tests have been recorded, Sale Sharks have stringently followed PRL and RFU protocols throughout the pandemic in order to contain the spread of the virus.
“The club is therefore in a position to fulfil its Gallagher Premiership Round 22 fixture with Worcester Warriors, scheduled for this Sunday at 3pm.
“However, after Worcester Warriors expressed concerns regarding the safety of the fixture taking place on Sunday, we sought advice from Public Health England and Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and Premiership Rugby have decided to postpone the match until Wednesday 7th October 2020 to allow further COVID-19 testing to take place prior to the fixture.
“Sale Sharks would like to reassure its supporters that all of the club’s players and staff are currently well.”
Gloucester v Northampton Saints cancelled
Meanwhile, the Premiership match between Gloucester and Northampton has been cancelled due to a number of Saints players self-isolating following Tuesday’s clash with Sale, Premiership Rugby has announced.
“It is with deep frustration that Northampton Saints can confirm that the Club’s scheduled Gallagher Premiership Round 22 fixture against Gloucester Rugby on Sunday 4 October at Kingsholm will not take place,” said Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive.
“As a result of a large number of positive COVID-19 tests at Sale Sharks, a number of our playing squad are required to self-isolate following close contact during our game against Sale on Tuesday evening.
“Specifically, this has acutely impacted our front row – an area where we were already significantly depleted owing to a series of injuries. Of the 14 front row players in our squad, we are left with just one tighthead prop and one hooker available to be included in the matchday squad.
“As soon as we were aware of the situation, we asked for permission to register loan players beyond the normal deadline in order that we could attempt to complete the fixture. We were advised that this dispensation will not be granted. We therefore have no option to bring in additional players as cover.
“We are extremely disappointed that our season has ended this way; an outbreak of coronavirus at another Premiership Club has left us with no viable option other than to forfeit our game.
“So far, none of our players are symptomatic and, where required, continue to follow all guidance to isolate.”