Munster’s game against the Bulls in Pretoria this Saturday has been officially postponed due to the spread of the new variant of Covid-19 in South Africa.
URC organizers are now working with the four visiting clubs – Munster, Cardiff, Scarlets and Zebre – to facilitate their return home as soon as possible.
“Due to the sudden developments related to the new variant of Covid-19 (B.1.1.529) which immediately put South Africa on the red lists for UK and EU travel, the scheduled meetings The 6th and 7th rounds of the United Rugby Championship scheduled to take place in South Africa over the next two weekends have been postponed and will be rescheduled later this season, ”a statement said.
“This decision is based on the latest guidelines against non-essential travel to and from South Africa, the ban on direct flights to the UK and other origin destinations and possible quarantines of hotels imposed on those returning from South Africa.
“As has been operational practice throughout the pandemic, the RCU will continue to engage with our medical advisory group, union shareholders and respective governments to plan in accordance with the latest health guidelines.
“An evaluation period will now be necessary to better understand the impact of these new travel restrictions and how to reschedule these games during the current season. Due to the nature and speed of these developments, URC will provide further updates in due course through official channels only. ”
It is understood that games may be rescheduled during Six Nations, but it is again evident how quickly things can change due to the unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa was embroiled in uncertainty due to a disastrous third wave in the country, but ultimately took place behind closed doors.
Following the latest update from the URC organizers, Munster has confirmed that they are bringing the tour back to Ireland as soon as possible.
“Overall, the week of training in Pretoria went well and the team returned negative PCR test results in this week’s routine tests which took place before the sixth round,” said a Munster press release.
Head coach Johann van Graan confirmed earlier this week that the team is tested daily in South Africa.
Scrum-half Craig Casey had just arrived in Pretoria ahead of any announcements, and will now join the squad as they look to get back to Ireland as soon as possible.
The latest postponements are yet another blow to the inter-hemisphere competition, which welcomed South Africa’s “big four” franchises into an expanded and renamed RCU of 16 teams earlier this year.
The Covid pandemic has only caused disruption, however, with last season’s Rainbow Cup designed to introduce the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers to European audiences plagued by travel restrictions while newcomers were forced to play their first five rounds of the new URC this fall away from home.
This month’s two rounds have reportedly given the foursome the opportunity to play their first home games although some unforeseen events have been put in place to organize the matches in Italy. Now, the belated decision to bring them back to South Africa has backfired as the unpredictable Covid-19 virus has taken another unexpected turn.
The weekend’s United Rugby Championship games in South Africa, including Munster’s game against the Bulls, are expected to be postponed following a new outbreak of Covid-19.
Munster found itself in the provincial epicenter of a worrying Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa, with the vast majority of the 2,465 new Covid-19s reported in South Africa on Thursday having been detected in Gauteng.
The two Welsh teams that were in South Africa, the Scarlets and Cardiff, have already confirmed they are looking for routes out of the country as new travel bans continue to apply.
It is believed that Munster – as well as the Italian side Zebra – are also currently working on their own contingency plans to leave South Africa, the country having already been placed on the UK’s travel red list.
The World Health Organization is currently calling an expert meeting from Geneva at 11 a.m. (Irish time) on Friday to assess the new variant of Covid-19 B.1.1.529 amid growing concerns that it may be act the most serious “super variant” to date.
The Munster match was called into question on Friday as the midday deadline for team announcements passed without a word from the competition organizers.
All four games scheduled in South Africa this weekend are set to be called off after detection of the new variant, resulting in the potential imposition of travel restrictions and the return of mandatory hotel quarantine upon his return to Ireland. .
There are no travel restrictions yet for EU citizens and Munster’s last official statement on Friday morning said: “We are all safe and healthy in Pretoria. We are working with URC on the current situation regarding Covid-19 and will provide an update once we know more. ”
The UK announced Thursday evening that travelers from South Africa and neighboring countries would be banned from entering England, while Israel, Germany, Singapore and Japan have since followed in the footsteps, imposing travel bans and flight restrictions to South Africa.
In terms of the impact on the United Rugby Championship, the dramatic turn of events has forced teams to scramble to clarify the situation and hastily arrange flights from South Africa when needed.
Munster was due to face the Bulls on Saturday, but the Pretoria-based team postponed their team announcement press conference on Friday, as did the Sharks and Stormers.
This is a sure sign of the uncertainty hanging over the tournament, and it is now expected to be only a matter of time before an official announcement is made confirming that both rounds of matches are in South Africa will not go as planned. They could apparently be rescheduled for a date during Six Nations next year.
This weekend, Zebre was also due to face the Stormers, Scarlets had lined up to face the Sharks, while Cardiff was in Johannesburg to prepare to face the Lions on Sunday.
Munster’s game against the Bulls was to be followed by a clash against the Lions next weekend, when they are scheduled to play a European Champions Cup match against the Wasps in Coventry on December 12.
Scarlets issued a statement Thursday evening saying they are “doing their utmost to get our touring group back to the UK as soon as possible”, while Cardiff Blues are making similar arrangements to return to Wales to avoid two mandatory. quarantine week which will come into effect in the UK from Sunday. Failure to do so would mean their playing team would not be able to fill the European matches with the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup which are due to start on the weekend of December 10-12.
Specifically in Gauteng on Thursday evening, the 1,950 new cases were the largest single-day increase since Aug. 13, with 707 inpatients and 55 in intensive care.
Ironically, both rounds of matches in South Africa were originally scheduled to be played in Italy due to Covid concerns, but they were later canceled once the country was removed from the UK’s travel red list. United in October.
This weekend was also to mark the first time that supporters were allowed to return to South Africa’s rugby stadiums for such a prestigious set of matches, albeit with crowd limitations of just 2,000 participants.
In golf, four Irish golfers are among the 16 players to have withdrawn from the Johannesburg Open, the opening round of the DP World Tour (renamed the European Tour). Jonathan Caldwell, Niall Kearney, Paul Dunne and Cormac Sharvin are seeking to leave the country amid the new outbreak.
Cricket Ireland has said it is in talks with the International Cricket Council and the government over the current ICC Women’s World Cup qualification in Zimbabwe.
The Ireland squad are currently based in Harare and have played two matches in the tournament’s group stage, with their next match scheduled for Monday. After the team’s victory yesterday over the Netherlands, it is likely that they will advance to the Super 6 round, where matches are currently scheduled for December 1, 3 and 5.
Warren Deutrom, CEO of Cricket Ireland, said: “We are very concerned about the latest developments regarding the new variant of Covid reported in Southern Africa, as our women’s team currently in Zimbabwe is playing a World Cup qualifier.
“Although the circumstances surrounding travel restrictions and health advice are changing rapidly, we have been in close contact with the ICC, the Irish government and sports bodies in both jurisdictions to better understand the facts, and to inform and reassure correct squad leadership.
“Our decision-making will first and foremost be based on the health and safety of players and support staff. We will provide updates as soon as possible.