Sale’s desperate attempts to save their Gallagher Premiership title quest have been thwarted by a fresh wave of positive tests for coronavirus as the Rugby Football Union voiced its concern over the outbreak.
The Sharks’ rescheduled final-round clash with Worcester on Wednesday night, postponed from Sunday, has been cancelled after an additional six players and two members of their back room staff were diagnosed with COVID-19.
It lifts the total number of positive tests to 27, making the match unsafe to play and forcing a Premiership Rugby (PRL) panel to award the Warriors a 20-0 victory that ends Sale’s chances of finishing in the play-offs.
As well as the additional round of testing that was completed on Tuesday with the results returned in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the club have been the focus of a probe by the RFU.
“The RFU is undertaking a full and thorough investigation and is working closely with Public Health England,” a statement read.
“A summary of findings will be published in due course and we will consider if there are any learnings for all clubs.
“The RFU has concerns about how this situation has developed and will be making recommendations to PRL and the PGB to avoid future uncertainty for clubs and players as well as protecting the reputation of the game.”
Sale named a reasonably strong starting XV for a match they needed to win to finish in the top four, but their bench was full of academy players.
The fresh wave of positive tests after 16 players and three back room staff were diagnosed last week has continued to devastate the league’s smallest squad, however.
Sale issued another rebuttal of reports suggesting that the outbreak is the consequence of a drinking session that celebrated victory in the Premiership Rugby Cup final last month.
“Throughout the last six months we have followed the official guidelines and protocols given to us by the RFU and PRL, with rigorous testing regimes and safety measures in place to protect everyone connected to the game,” a club statement read.
“We are confident the audit carried out by the RFU over the past few days will confirm this absolutely.
“Reports over the weekend suggesting our players acted irresponsibly by partying and socialising throughout Manchester after our Premiership Rugby Cup victory are completely inaccurate and untrue.”
Worcester’s team coach was due to leave Sixways at 1230pm, but they learned earlier in the morning that they would not be travelling north.
A Warriors statement welcome the decision by PRL, declaring that health and safety must trump the integrity of the league.
It is a sentiment echoed by PRL chief executive Darren Childs, whose organisation has been criticised for its handling of the crisis.
“I have spoken to Sale and neither the club or Premiership Rugby will take risks with people’s health,” Childs said.
“Together we won’t compromise our commitment that matches will only happen if it is safe to do so, therefore the game is off. This decision demonstrates that commitment.
“Our first thoughts are now with those at the club, both players and management, who have tested positive and we wish them a speedy recovery.
“We mustn’t forget we have a significant number of people at one of our clubs with Covid-19 and we will give the Sharks all the support they need.
“We know everyone at Sale Sharks will be devastated, and we share their disappointment that their season ends this way.”