Worcester have called for answers as to why Sale have been able to pick 13 players who featured against Northampton last week for the controversially postponed Premiership match on Wednesday night as the fallout from the Covid-19 outbreak at the Sharks rumbles on.
Initially due to be played on Sunday, the fixture has been postponed because of an outbreak of 19 Covid cases – including 16 players – at Sale. That led to Northampton’s match at Gloucester being cancelled because some Saints players were required to self-isolate, having come into contact with the Sale squad last week.
Questions have been raised, however, as to why those 13 Sale players named by Steve Diamond on Tuesday are not self-isolating. It is understood that five of the Northampton players in quarantine are front-row forwards but Sale have named both their starting and replacement loosehead prop from the Saints match. Premiership Rugby has in response defended its track and trace system which seeks to identify “close contacts” by reviewing video footage. Sale meanwhile, are confident their squad is “Covid compliant” and have provided the Rugby Football Union with its track and trace data.
On Tuesday, however, the RFU revealed Northampton’s Piers Francis, who came off the bench against Sale, tested positive for Covid-19 and has been removed from the England squad. The Northampton flanker Lewis Ludlam has already had to forgo the squad due to being in quarantine.
Sale have said they will forfeit the match if there are any more cases from Tuesday’s round of testing, the results of which are due on Wednesday morning. Worcester may still boycott the match and will wait on the outcome of Sale’s tests before making a decision. It is understood Worcester have been provided with some information requested from Sale but still want clarity over the track and trace processes regarding the Sharks’ infected players. The RFU has been conducting an investigation into Sale’s track and trace procedure while Public Health England is also closely monitoring the situation.
Sale have named a starting XV of considerable calibre, albeit with the World Cup-winning scrum-half Faf de lerk, Ben Curry, and Rohan Janse van Rensburg among those absent. They have also selected Valery Morozov, a loosehead prop by trade, at tighthead for the first time since he joined the club as well as two players who were released over the summer on the bench.
If the match goes ahead and Sale claim victory without a bonus point, they will move to fourth and face a trip to Exeter on Saturday for a semi-final after a three-day turnaround. Those players currently self-isolating would again be unavailable, while a bonus‑point victory would mean an away fixture at Wasps. Echoing Worcester’s sentiments, the Wasps head coach, Lee Blackett, has suggested his side would seek health and safety assurances going ahead with the fixture. Asked if Wasps could forfeit a potential semi-final against Sale if he is not satisfied over his players’ safety, he said: “Those are not things I have asked myself, but what I will say from our side is that the No 1 priority is the safety of our players.”