Leicester’s preparations for the new Premiership season have been plunged into disarray after a Covid-19 outbreak forced the Tigers to shut down their training ground.
The club will undergo an emergency round of testing on Friday after several players and staff tested positive, two weeks before the campaign is set to begin. Earlier in the week Premiership Rugby announced 17 positive cases from eight clubs and Leicester’s outbreak raises the prospect of the start to the season being severely disrupted.
In addition to those who have tested positive, a number of Leicester players and staff members are self-isolating, having been identified as close contacts. The England squad have been enjoying a few days off before meeting up again to prepare for the Autumn Nations Cup but it is understood Leicester’s internationals have had no direct contact with their clubmates at the training ground this week.
Last season was finally concluded last month but the Premiership final was hit by an outbreak among the Wasps squad while the last day of the regular season was thrown into turmoil by 27 positive cases at Sale. With the new campaign beginning so late in the year and finishing at the end of June, there are no free weekends in the calendar for matches to be rescheduled. Leicester, who finished last season in 11th place, begin at home to Gloucester on 21 November.
A statement said: “Tigers have made the decision to pause all training commitments and close the training ground in a bid to maintain the integrity of the 2020-21 Premiership season, as well as honouring our responsibilities to the Leicestershire community.”
Meanwhile the Rugby Football Union has confirmed Championship clubs will need further financial help from the government if the new season is to go ahead in January. The RFU is desperate for the league to be played to avoid a colossal headache over promotion and relegation if it is scrapped, a move that would leave Saracens in limbo.
Most clubs are eager to start playing again but it is not financially worthwhile to do so without crowds, given the current cost of testing. The government’s furlough extension helps in the short-term but clubs would have to take players and staff off the scheme when matches resume.
An RFU statement said: “With clubs having little or no earning power for the past eight months, their individual financial status does not allow them to meet the costs of currently required Covid testing or face the prospect of no income going forward due to an absence of match-day crowds.
“[Reports] of potential government support funding, whilst awaiting further detail, are very welcome. However, time is passing and urgent decision making is paramount. [With] support, it remains the desire and intention of the Championship to commence its 2020-21 league season in January 2021.”