Premiership rugby clubs last night demanded assurances that it is safe to play Covid-hit Sale as the climax to the English season descended into chaos and recrimination.
A day which should have brought clarity to the end of the domestic season brought only questions as frustration grew over 19 Sharks testing positive.
The Rugby Football Union will this morning launch an investigation into the circumstances behind the outbreak, covering all aspects of the track-and-trace processes.
Feelings are running high after Sale were given leave to put back their final game against Worcester to Wednesday whilst Northampton, obliged to self isolate as a result of having played Sale last week, were forced to forfeit theirs.
The upshot of that was while Wasps and Bristol yesterday joined Exeter in reaching this weekend’s play-off semi-finals, Bath’s failure to win at Saracens means Sale know exactly what they need to do to rob them of the final spot.
Bristol boss Pat Lam hit out at Premiership Rugby's decision to grant Sale a postponement and questioned the "behaviour of the (Sale) group".
He said: “It’s about the integrity of the competition, no-one gets an advantage. But that’s not happening.
“It's always been the case that all the fixtures on the final day take place at the same time.
"I would now be getting back on the bus to start preparing for our semi-final opponents but I can't do that until Wednesday evening as I don't know who they will be.
"It's crazy; none of us should be in this situation as a lot of clubs have been affected by this.”
Lam added: ”The biggest shock was that there were 19 positive tests in their camp, not just one or two and that has to call into question the behaviour of the group.”
Sale boss Steve Diamond refuted claims that the Covid spread had been caused by players partying after a cup final win.
“We have followed every single protocol,” he said. “There is no breach of protocol done deliberately.”
But without an answer as to what had caused it, Exeter boss Rob Baxter reflected the unease around the league.
“Teams that go on to play Sale in the future or the next few weeks will probably want to know some detail of how things have been passed around a relatively large group,” he said.
“Because that hasn’t happened at other clubs to date. What we’ve seen is the individual positive cases are not spreading on the whole through a large group of players from training.”
Tournament bosses insist Sale still have to satisfy both them and Public Health England that all is in order before they get the go-ahead to play Worcester.
“The local public health bodies are concerned if this is an outbreak or not,” said Premiership Rugby’s Phil Winstanley. “If we find a flaw then the game can’t go ahead.”
Diamond conceded: “If there’s more positive cases we can’t play and that’s the way it is. We have to stomach that.”
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