The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has today (Friday) cancelled Twickenham’s staging of the England v Barbarians fixture on Sunday, with CEO Bill Sweeney stating his “incredible frustration” at the actions of a number of the latter’s team’s players in breaking the bubble environment for the game.
As part of its ongoing investigation into a breach of the COVID-19 code of conduct that took place on Wednesday, the RFU said it has today discovered there was an earlier undisclosed breach that took place on Tuesday when a number of Barbarians players left the hotel bubble without permission and without informing organisers about their whereabouts.
Some 12 Barbarians players were reported to have been stood down following the incident, which saw them leave the bubble environment to have dinner at a London restaurant. The RFU has concluded that the players leaving their COVID-secure environment without then isolating from the rest of the group on their return has resulted in the bubble environment being compromised, with the potential risk of virus transmission from individuals outside the bubble to everyone in the Barbarians team and management.
The RFU said it is therefore left with no alternative but to cancel the game, adding that an investigation is ongoing and no details on individuals or numbers of players involved will be confirmed until the probe is concluded.
Sweeney said: “We are incredibly disappointed to be calling a halt to this fixture, we know how much fans were looking forward to seeing the teams play. However, our priority is to protect the health and safety of the England squad and the other international teams they will go up against this autumn.
“There has been a great deal of effort put into COVID codes of conduct and planning for games, including cooperation with Premiership clubs to release additional players to fulfil the fixture safely, and we are all incredibly frustrated and disappointed that the actions of a number of Barbarians players mean we no longer feel it is safe for the game to go ahead.”
The Barbarians game was due to have been England’s first return to action following the outbreak of COVID-19 and a warm-up for the rescheduled 2020 Six Nations game in Italy on October 31.
Sunday’s game was also originally due to see the RFU trial the return of fans to Twickenham. Subject to obtaining the relevant license and approvals, including those from public health authorities, the RFU had planned for spectator numbers of up to 20,000; less than 25% of the stadium’s total 82,000 capacity.
However, the government’s subsequent suspension of the return of fans to sporting events put paid to this scheme.