Mar­seille made to wait a year for show­piece fi­nals

Evening Times - - RUGBY UNION - STU­ART BATH­GATE

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

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