The Scarlets have forfeited their European Champions Cup opening clash against Bristol on Saturday, citing player welfare concerns and an inability to field a squad.
The Welsh side have decided against calling upon any of the 32 players who are currently in quarantine in Belfast, having been in South Africa when stricter UK travel rules were introduced following the emergence of the omicron variant. Those players are due to leave quarantine on Friday, 24 hours before the match against Bristol, but on player welfare grounds they have not been considered for selection.
That left the Scarlets with just 14 available players and with the tournament organisers, EPCR, insisting that postponing the match was not feasible, Bristol have been awarded a 28-0 victory. The Scarlets looked into the possibility of recruiting emergency loan players from the Dragons and the Ospreys but as anyone who played against Bristol would be cup-tied for the remainder of the tournament that did not come to light, leaving forfeiting as the only option.
“It is a decision we haven’t taken lightly,” said the Scarlets executive chairman Simon Muderack. “This is a great fixture between two great clubs, which supporters, players and staff on both sides were all looking forward to. Ultimately, though, the welfare of our players has to be our priority and following discussions with our staff it was felt that there was too much risk to ask the players currently in quarantine to play a game of this magnitude and intensity just a day after coming out of quarantine. You have to remember, the squad have been in isolation since the news of this omicron variant first emerged when they were still in Durban so it will be something like 15 days in all. Also, a lot of the players haven’t played since the Benetton game on 22 October. As a club we have a duty of care to our players.
“With only 14 squad members training at the Parc, half of them young development players, we did look into the possibility of registering players from other regions and we have been grateful for the positive response from Ospreys and Dragons. But, any players we did loan would effectively be ‘cup-tied’ which has made that option a challenge as well.
“With the integrity of the competition in mind, we felt we were unable to put together a match-day 23 that would safely be able to take the field against the Bears. We are all disappointed. I know a lot of fans had booked accommodation in Bristol and have been looking forward to this game for some time. But I am sure everyone will understand the situation we have found ourselves in through no fault of our own.
“I would also like to stress that we have returned no positive Covid-19 cases in all the rounds of PCR testing prior to leaving and since arriving in South Africa and Northern Ireland. We would like to thank everyone at Bristol Bears and EPCR for their understanding of our predicament and look forward to welcoming Pat Lam and his side to Parc y Scarlets for the return fixture in January.”