Sale’s postponed Premiership match on Wednesday has been cast into further doubt after Worcester’s director of rugby, Alan Solomons, revealed his side may still boycott the controversial game, suggesting there could be “legal consequences” to the decision over whether it goes ahead. Sale, meanwhile, have said they will forfeit the match if they receive one more positive test on Tuesday.
On Monday the Rugby Football Union began its investigation into the outbreak of 19 Covid-19 cases at Sale, including 16 players, that prompted the match against Worcester to be moved from Sunday to Wednesday. Public Health England is also monitoring the situation with the Sale squad due to be retested on Tuesday.
Solomons suggested the outbreak may be linked to reports of Sale visiting Manchester Metropolitan university after their Premiership Cup final win, 10 days before returning the positive tests. Sale have staunchly denied the allegations. It is understood some celebrations did take place at their Carrington training base but, as first revealed by the Guardian, Sale suspect the outbreak was caused by a “false negative” test last week.
Sale are desperate for the match to be played because victory would seal their place in the Premiership semi-finals. If both play-off matches take place on Saturday, even if Sale do overcome Worcester, the 16 players who had tested positive would still be self-isolating and therefore unavailable for their semi-final after a three-day turnaround. If Sale have to forfeit, Bath would qualify for the semi-finals. If Worcester pull out they would forfeit and Sale would finish third.
“The overriding factor is the safety of players, staff and families,” Solomons said. “We will await the decision of Premier Rugby. They can take the decision they want and at that point we will hopefully be in a position of having all the relevant facts, so we can then consider our position properly. We are still waiting on information from Sale.
“It is certainly a red flag to have 19 people test positive. It lends credence about there being late-night celebrations after the Premiership Cup – this is just stuff that I am reading – and that there was partying going on at Manchester Met university. What is concerning is that Manchester Met university has [many] students who tested positive. They are in lockdown at the moment. The north of England, including Manchester, is an area where the virus is on the increase. You have got a second wave of the virus.”
The Sharks responded by insisting: “Sale refute all recent allegations made, regarding Sale Sharks’ players being in central Manchester or on university campuses following the Premiership Rugby Cup final.”
Solomons also questioned whether there would be legal repercussions from the decision ultimately taken. “It has got to be made for the right reasons – the health and safety of players, staff and family,” he added. “Obviously there are consequences to any decision that is made and those consequences are wide ranging. And they include legal consequences. It is their decision and they bear the consequences of those decisions.”
Premiership Rugby has come in for criticism after Northampton’s game against Gloucester was cancelled whereas Sale v Worcester was postponed. Solomons has also questioned whether Phil Winstanley, PRL’s rugby director, was the best person to take the lead. Winstanley is a former Sale player and an ex-team-mate of Diamond. “It’s a very difficult situation for Phil and I sympathise with him,” he said. “Maybe, in my view, given the associations it had, it may have been better for someone else from Premiership Rugby to take the lead.” PRL have denied any suggestion of impartiality.