Sale vow to play on despite coronavirus cases

Sale insist their crucial Gallagher Premiership clash with Worcester on Sunday will go ahead as planned despite 16 of their players testing positive for coronavirus.

The decisive final round of regular-season fixtures has been thrown into chaos by the spread of Covid-19 through the Manchester club, with a small number of backroom staff also returning positive tests, the PA news agency understands.

The fallout could affect Northampton’s trip to Gloucester, with Saints having played Sale at Franklin’s Gardens on Tuesday evening and already contending with an injury crisis at loosehead prop.

However, the Sharks are planning to stage the match at the AJ Bell Stadium as scheduled, despite their squad being severely depleted, and will name their starting XV at lunchtime on Saturday.

Steve Diamond's Sale are title contenders this season
Steve Diamond's Sale are title contenders this season

“Sale can confirm that their Gallagher Premiership round 22 match with Worcester Warriors, scheduled for 3pm on Sunday 4th October, will go ahead as planned,” a statement read.

“Although Sale Sharks have been subject to a number of positive COVID-19 tests this week, after a thorough consultation the club, its healthcare professionals and rugby management are confident the fixture can be fulfilled safely in accordance with all COVID-19 guidelines. ”

The unavailability of 16 players decimates the Premiership’s smallest squad of just 32 senior professionals and hinders their ability to field a matchday 23 without summoning reinforcements from their academy or making emergency signings.

In addition, Manu Tuilagi, Cobus Wiese and Lood De Jager have been struck down by long-term injuries and are unavailable for a game Sale must win if they are to secure a semi-final place.

Premiership Rugby (PRL) has been contacted for comment by the PA news agency.

If a club is unable to field a competitive team because of coronavirus, they automatically forfeit the game and a 20-0 defeat is awarded against them.

In that scenario, Sale would almost certainly endure an agonising end to an otherwise fine season by being replaced in the top four by Bristol, who are expected to sweep aside London Irish.

However, they are confident the game can go ahead, with greater clarity over their plans to be revealed on Saturday.

Most tests were carried out on Thursday, with clubs informed of the results on Friday morning. PRL does not release results until 48 hours after the tests were taken, meaning official confirmation will not be given before Saturday.

The team announcements that were due to take place at midday on Friday have been delayed by 24 hours.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Bath at Allianz Park, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall confirmed the extent of the problem at Sale.

“I’m not sure what happens next, it would depend on how many players they have available from the squad who weren’t in contact with those 16 players,” McCall said.

TEAM NEWS @premrugby delay team announcements ahead of Round 22 until 12:00pm

— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) October 2, 2020

“As soon as you’ve got a positive test you’ve got to determine who else needs to be isolated right away, depending on the contact with that player who has tested positive.”

Saracens anxiously awaited the return of their results on Friday morning after Racing 92 revealed they had nine positive tests after winning the rivals’ Champions Cup semi-final in Paris last Saturday.

“There was concern. Before our results you wondered, but we have come through with a clean bill of health and that is great,” McCall said.

Northampton’s issues centre around the front row, where their crisis at loosehead prop might render them unable to play Gloucester were their remaining options in the position to be forced into quarantine.