Sale's Covid-19 outbreak sparks backlash from rivals after game delay

Sale’s Covid-19 outbreak sparks backlash from Premiership rivals as the Government step in to delay final-day Worcester clash

  • Sale Sharks were to face Worcester on the final day of the Premiership season
  • A 19-man coronavirus outbreak at the club has seen the Government intervene 
  • The fixture has been postponed to Wednesday but rivals are asking questions 
  • Sale insist they are fully capable of providing a team for the final fixture  

Sale have faced a backlash from their play-off rivals over their mass Covid outbreak as Premiership Rugby came under pressure from the Government to cancel the club’s rearranged final league fixture.

Sale’s home game against Worcester has been postponed until Wednesday after 16 players and three staff tested positive for the virus.

Sportsmail has learned that PRL are facing demands from Westminster to justify that decision. It is understood that the Government are concerned about rugby players being seen to escape punishment for potential breaches of public health protocols at a time when the Premiership are seeking an emergency financial bailout.

Sale Sharks have suffered a Covid-19 outbreak among the Premiership club’s squad and staff

And the RFU are due to launch an investigation on Monday into the spike in COVID cases at Sale.

However, Sale’s director of rugby, Steve Diamond, has dismissed allegations that his squad returned positive tests after partying in the aftermath of their Premiership Cup triumph two weeks ago.

‘No players went out at all,’ he said. ‘No standards slipped and no protocols were broken.’

In response to the postponement of his side’s clash with Worcester, Diamond added: ‘We wanted to fulfil the fixture. I have a squad of 34 players and 19 kids. I don’t understand why people say we can’t do this. We’ve got a very strong team and a young bench which is Covid negative.’ 

The Sharks’ final fixture of their Premiership campaign has been postponed until Wednesday

His comments came amid an acrimonious response from Sale’s rivals for a play-off place which plunged the end of the league campaign into disarray. Bath, who drew with Saracens yesterday, face missing out if Sale beat Worcester.

Bristol are guaranteed a play-off next weekend after victory over London Irish, but they are in the dark about who they will come up against — with Bears’ director of rugby, Pat Lam, saying:

‘The biggest shock is the number of cases,’ he said. ‘We can understand one or two, but 19 — something has gone wrong there. The only way 19 happens is because of the behaviour within the group.

‘If I had one or two in my team, my concern is not just for our team but the opposition. Every player is connected to a family member or someone close.

Sale director Steve Diamond (left) has no worries about his club bringing together a team 

‘We’ve all made sacrifices. My kids are in their 20s and I don’t hug them any more when I come home — we keep our distance because we don’t want that risk. Every day I get my test it’s a nervous wait as I know it affects the whole team.

‘It was made clear you could lose the game if you have positive test results. We were told there would be no postponements. Hopefully common sense comes through.’

Bath have been left to prepare for a trip to Exeter knowing that they could be knocked out of fourth place on Wednesday night. The Chiefs and Wasps have earned home semi-finals, but neither club know who their visitors will be.

Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director rugby, laughed when the permutations were clarified and added: ‘Teams who play Sale will probably want to know some detail of how things have been passed around a relatively large group.’

The Sharks deny starting the outbreak in their squad by partying following their cup triumph

Wasps are similarly in the dark about the their next opponents, but head coach Lee Blackett said: ‘One thing we spoke about during lockdown was being adaptable. We will have to be adaptable again.’

Bath, as the team in fourth place, have the most to lose. Their director of rugby, Stuart Hooper, said: ‘The only thing we can do is prepare for a semi-final as if we’re going down to Sandy Park.

‘It’s out of our hands. We want want everyone to have a fair crack and opportunity to play. We’re still in it right now.’

Northampton, who played Sale last Tuesday, have refuted claims by PRL rugby director, Phil Winstanley, that they chose not to take up the option to bring in loan players, before forfeiting their game against Gloucester.

‘We were advised that this dispensation would not be granted,’ read a Saints statement. ‘We therefore had no option.’

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