'Big blow' as Northampton v Leicester called off after more Covid positives

Northampton’s match against Leicester is the latest Premiership fixture to be cancelled because of Covid-19 following an outbreak among the Saints.

Premiership Rugby has confirmed that Saturday’s east Midlands derby is the fifth match in just over two weeks to be called off as the pandemic continues to blight the fixture list.

Northampton confirmed a number of cases at the club on Tuesday and with further players unavailable due to contact tracing, the decision was made to cancel the fixture in conjunction with Public Health England.

It is Northampton’s second match in a row to be called off after last weekend’s trip to London Irish was also cancelled due to an outbreak among the Exiles. In this instance, Northampton are set to be awarded two points and Leicester four, provided it is established that the Tigers were able to safely field a team.

Professional sport has been allowed to continue in the latest national lockdown, but the glut of cancellations is leading to increasing calls for an end to relegation from the Premiership this season The integrity of the competition has been called into question amid fears the table is being skewed by the allocation of points. Northampton, say, are set to accrue six points from their last two matches without taking to the field.

More than half the Premiership clubs have now had matches cancelled and it remains to be seen whether London Irish’s trip to Harlequins on Sunday can go ahead given both sides had matches scratched last weekend. Discussions are underway as to how best to tighten training protocols in an effort to reduce the number of outbreaks among the clubs.

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“We are incredibly disappointed and frustrated that we are unable to proceed with such an important fixture for the club,” said Northampton’s director of rugby, Chris Boyd. “The east midlands derby is a day that Saints supporters will have circled in their calendar months in advance. It’s a game entrenched in history and one our players particularly relish being a part of.

“It’s also a big blow to have back-to-back matches cancelled, as we had hoped to pick up some momentum again following an important win on Boxing Day. The club has been absolutely rigorous in how we have followed the protocols laid out for us, and despite returning a number of positive tests this week, we were confident that we have more than enough of our squad still healthy and available to play the game if required.

“However, we are following the advice we have been given, which was not to play the game and to close our training facility until next week. While this is a bitter pill to swallow, the health and safety of the players, staff and families of everyone at both Saints and Tigers is of course paramount.”

Meanwhile, Exeter’s director of rugby, Rob Baxter, expects the Chiefs’ Saturday fixture against Bristol to take place despite an undisclosed number of positive tests at the defending champions.

“We’re certainly going to have another round of testing later this week just to ensure that nobody’s slipped through the net, nobody’s become viral later in the week and that will just ensure that when we take the field we can go with that 100% confidence, we’re not risking transmitting anything to Bristol,” Baxter told the BBC.

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