Marseille made to wait a year for showpiece finals
THE Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals will no longer be played in Marseille this season as a result of “the many uncertainties created by the Covid-19 pandemic”, tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) have announced. Instead, the games will be played at a venue or venues yet to be decided, with Marseille’s Stade Velodrome now playing host in 2021. London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which was to have been the venue for both finals next year, will now have that honour in 2022.
“With tens of thousands of fans scheduled to travel to the south of France, the board of EPCR and the local organising committee have agreed that insufficient safeguards are currently in place during the public health crisis to stage two high-profile matches at the 67,000-capacity Stade Vélodrome,” EPCR said.
“As a consequence, EPCR is currently working with its shareholder leagues and unions to secure an alternative venue or venues for the two finals which will be played on the weekend of 16th to 18th October, and details will be announced as soon as practicable.”
In recent years EPCR has staged both finals at the same venue over one weekend, but it now appears probable that two grounds will be used this season. EPCR has yet to suggest which criteria will be used to decide on the final venues, but as things stand there is no reason why BT Murrayfield should not be a candidate.
Glasgow Warriors were eliminated from the Champions Cup at the group stage, but Edinburgh Rugby are through to the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, where they face a match in France against Bordeaux-Begles in midSeptember. The semi-finals are due to be held on the last weekend in September, with a gap of three weeks between then and the final itself leaving organisers ample time to make arrangements.
Meanwhile, the SRU has issued a document suggesting that a full league programme of club rugby could go ahead next season provided that the sport within Scotland is able to resume at the end of October – which is currently viewed as the earliest feasible date.
The document makes it clear that everything is dependent on Scottish Government Routemap guidelines, but it does present a more optimistic picture than the last one offered by the union.
However, if there are delays in the return to play, with no matches being able to take place until November, the option for a full competitive league programme disappears from the planning.
Instead, it is suggested, clubs will have to make do with a “local rugby” programme, to be followed later in the season by a “competitive cup competition” or “informal league” programme.
In the case of no play being possible until after the turn of the year, the suggestion is that there will only be a cup competition then an informal league programme, missing out on the local rugby programme which is due to take place in the autumn.
In the best-case scenario, the Premiership of 10 teams and National Divisions One, Two and Three (12 teams each) would begin on 31 October. Teams would play the usual home-andaway programme, followed in the case of the top flight by the customary end-of-season playoffs, with the top four meeting in semi-finals then a final.
The scheduled league season would run through until February, with weekends in February, March and April designated as stand-bys in the event of any postponements. The Premiership semi-finals would take place on 24 April, with the final following a fortnight later on 8 May.
Insufficient safeguards are currently in place
The Stade Velodrome in Marseille will now host the 2021 finals