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Premiership Rugby outlaws try celebrations in move to curb Covid-19 spread

Try celebrations were last night banned by Premiership Rugby chiefs in a dramatic move to curb the spread of coronavirus.

A raft of new stricter measures were brought in after Saturday’s East Midlands derby between Northampton and Leicester became the fifth English top-flight match of the season to be cancelled, due to an outbreak at Saints.

The league’s tightened protocols at training grounds are to include a ban on ice baths, a requirement that face masks are worn at all times within buildings and that food is available only on a take away basis.

‘Face-to-face’ try celebrations, along with hugs and handshakes are outlawed from matches and ‘non-playing’ players are no longer permitted to attend unless nominated as a travelling reserve.

Rugby union, which shutdown completely between March and August, is battling to keep afloat through this second wave.

As the virus tightens its grip, double-winning Exeter boss Rob Baxter admitted that any achievement beyond simply getting through the season in one piece will be a “bonus”.

England stars celebrate 2019 World Cup semi-final win 0ver New Zealand

Baxter, whose Chiefs team forfeited a European Cup match last month after an outbreak in their ranks, believes regular testing in English rugby’s top flight makes it “relatively safe”.

But he admitted: “If we get through this season okay and unscathed – by which I mean with no health issues among the people we know and in the club – we’ve done a pretty good job.

“And anything you can get out of it positively on the rugby field is more than a bonus really.”

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter

Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad has called for the plug to be pulled on the Champions Cup, which thus far has seen four cancellations including holders Exeter’s clash at Toulouse.

In the Challenge Cup, which has seen two games scrubbed, Bayonne are currently refusing to fulfil their remaining fixtures.

The Lions tour to South Africa is in grave doubt, although there is talk of switching it to the UK and Ireland if, as increasingly seems inevitable, Covid prevents fans from travelling.

One option under discussion is to switch Lions tour from South Africa to UK and Ireland
One option under discussion is to switch Lions tour from South Africa to UK and Ireland

“Do I understand why people have their concerns and their worries? 100 per cent,” said Baxter. “The reason we are in the scenario we are in, that should give a concern.

“But we’ve been cleared as professional sport to carry on, so that’s what we’ve got to do.

“We’re in such a climate of change at the moment it’s just about focusing on yourself and what you’re doing and how you try and get yourselves through things as a rugby club. The only thing you’re in control of is what you do.”

The Premiership’s latest Covid test results are due today. Exeter organised an additional round of testing after recording “some” positives.

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Exeter turn on style for fans and Sam Simmonds declares: “That was for YOU”

Sam Simmonds picked up where he left off in Europe to keep a promise he made to Exeter fans starved of live rugby.

Eight weeks after Chiefs won the Champions Cup and Simmonds was named player of the tournament, the turnstiles of Sandy Park reopened.

Supporters who last saw Exeter play when they were neither kings of Europe nor Premiership champions came hoping the magic had not worn off.

They were rewarded with emphatic confirmation it had not as Chiefs launched their title defence with a six-try masterclass.

Simmonds opened the scoring, was named man of the match and dedicated the win to the fans.

Olly Woodburn caps a fine individual display with one of Exeter’s six tries

“We wanted to put on a performance for our fans who had hurt from not seeing us in the best year we’ve ever had,” he said.

“We didn’t want to be the team that just performed for one year and were happy with that.”

Ironically, the start was as uncomfortable as boss Rob Baxter feared it would be when warning of the potential for distraction having fans back.

Here’s what you missed: Chiefs fans were unable to attend their club’s Champions Cup final triumph

Joe Simmonds put the opening kick-off straight out and Chiefs were turned over at the first scrum.

But Exeter quickly twigged that they needed to bring the fuel to start the fire rather than expect the crowd to light it for them.

Once they did, once Jannes Kirsten and Dave Ewers teamed up to dump an onrushing Warrior on his backside, it was business as usual.

Sam Simmonds has not played for England since 2018

The throaty roar which greeted the turnover was followed by a pin-point kick to the corner by Henry Slade, a line-out drive and try for Sam Simmonds.

Now the place crackled with energy. Tom O’Flaherty cut a peach of a line, Glasgow infringed at the breakdown, Chiefs worked it into the red zone and Jonny Gray dotted down.

Before Glasgow had recovered from one of their old boys scoring against them it happened a second time, Slade and Olly Woodburn unpicking Warriors’ defence, Stuart Hogg doing the rest.

Stuart Hogg dives to score against his former club

There is a swagger about Exeter these days and they really need no help from the opposition.

But Glasgow tossed them a bone all the same, Grant Stewart overthrowing a lineout for Jack Yeandle to bag the bonus point.

Chiefs’ command of the game was summed up by their fifth try. Sam Simmonds not only won a turnover but got up and made 20 metres.

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter with last season’s Premiership and Champions Cup trophies

The ball came back to Ollie Devoto who dropped it onto his boot for Woodburn to score without breaking stride.

The winger was not done, exploding into the 13 channel to send Jonny Hill over for the final score and give Joe Simmonds his sixth conversion.

It will be tougher in Toulouse next week where Sam Simmonds concedes Exeter will arrive wearing a target.

“But starting the campaign like this sets down a good marker,” he said. “We’re happy with that.”

EXETER – Tries: S Simmonds, Gray, Hogg, Yeandle, Woodburn, Hill. Cons: J Simmonds 6.

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Exeter out to retain Euro crown to give fans party they missed due to pandemic

Exeter Chiefs are on a mission to retain the European Cup next year so their fans get to party like it’s 2020.

England’s champion club tomorrow launch the defence of a title they won for the first time only 57 days ago.

They went on to complete the double by adding the English Premiership a week later yet what was a stunning achievement passed without public celebration due to Covid restrictions.

For the first time since March the club welcome supporters into Sandy Park for the visit of Glasgow, with 2,000 season ticket holders allowed back.

Exeter forward Sam Skinner

And Chiefs star Sam Skinner revealed that the team are determined to give their rugby-starved faithful a taste of what they missed in lockdown.

He said: “We did the double and while there will have been great energy from afar from our fans who could not go out and socialise and live life properly, we missed out on a parade and sharing it with them.

“The whole South West would like to have celebrated in style, so it would make it extra special if we can do it all again this season.”

Chiefs celebrate European Cup glory in an empty stadium in Bristol

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has told his players they will need to adjust to having fans back.

Baxter warned: “The lads have kind of got used to going into their own zone with each other and just focusing on the game at hand.

“They’ll still have to do that, but they’ll need to be aware that there will be distractions about the place now.

Joe Simmonds’ try beats Toulouse behind closed doors at Sandy Park to send Chiefs into European Cup final

“As a team we have to make sure we play in a way that generates that energy amongst the crowd that we can then feed off.”

Skinner says the message has hit home and believes the mental adjustments have been made.

“We are all human beings and you cannot help but notice the silence when you run out and constantly have to generate the energy yourself,” he said.

Another empty stadium, another trophy: Chiefs with Premiership spoils at Twickenham

“The danger is we turn up and expect the crowd to bring all the energy for us. We know we have to put in a performance they are going to want to support and get behind.”

Chiefs make four changes to the side which started the final against Racing 92 at Bristol’s Ashton Gate in mid-October.

Olly Woodburn and Ollie Devoto come into the back line for Jack Nowell and Ian Whitten, with Skinner and captain Jack Yeandle starting up front ahead of England duo Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jonny Hill.

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Henry Slade living the dream as he closes in on clean sweep of rugby’s trophies


Henry Slade knows he is living the dream and he is not about to pinch himself.

In what has been an awful year for so many, the Exeter star has enjoyed as rich a run of success as rugby has known.

Last month he lifted the European Cup, the Premiership and the Six Nations on successive weekends, scoring tries in all three ‘finals’.

Now he is two England wins from making it four major trophies in 50 days by adding the Autumn Nations Cup.

“It’s been a pretty awesome year,” admitted Slade. “It could have been a bit better with people there to watch it. Apart from that it has been unbelievable.”

Slade scores in England’s Six Nations title-clinching win over Italy in Rome and (below) with trophy


Slade’s golden run has played out against a backdrop of disruption, uncertainty and tragedy across the world.

Yet for a player who has had his fair share of bad luck with injuries and type 1 diabetes, the year has brought great joy.

The first lockdown bought him time to recover from a broken leg, pushing back the domestic season and Six Nations until he was fit to take part.

Slade scores in Premiership final win over Wasps and (below) with his man of the match award


It also allowed him to savour becoming a first-time dad when partner Megan gave birth to daughter Olive.

And now a match on Saturday against Wales, followed in all probability by a final against France, stands between the 27-year-old and a perfect 2020.

“It is pretty strange circumstances,” Slade conceded. “It’ll never happen again when you have them all back-to-back and the Six Nations in October.

Hooray Henry: Slade scores Exeter’s all-important try in their European Cup final win over Racing…

…and celebrates (left) with Jack Yeandle, Alec Hepburn, Ben Moon and Gareth Steenson

“So for us to have done that was awesome; three on the bounce is something I will probably never get to do again and something I will cherish forever.”

Slade could not have imagined such good fortune when England lost the World Cup final a year ago and he returned home to fracture his ankle in a club game. But fate then intervened.

“If any time was a good time for a lockdown, yeah, I suppose it gave me a chance to get rid of some niggles,” he said.

Exeter won Heineken Cup (above) and Premiership title a week later (below)


“I was just coming back from a broken leg and it was probably still a little bit sore, so to have that time off and to get fully sorted was good.

“Lockdown was was almost like a mini sabbatical. It was frustrating not knowing when or if the season was going to restart, but we didn’t let that get in the way.

“We knuckled down, got some hard work done and reaped the benefits later on.”

England today name their side to face Wales and Ollie Lawrence’s hip injury means a new midfield partner for Slade.





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Exeter’s wish to take on world set to be granted, according to Euro Clubs’ boss


Double winners Exeter are to get their wish to shoot for global glory, according to European clubs boss Simon Halliday.

Chiefs chairman Tony Rowe greeted his club’s Premiership-Champions Cup triumph by declaring: “I want to be the premier club in the world.”

Halliday responded: “Our hope is that there will be a World Club Champions’ Cup in the 2021/22 season. That is what we are proposing.

“There’s a lot of talking points, a lot of things we need to make certain work for both us and the southern hemisphere.

“But there seems to be a will both in the north and the south to develop something that could be very exciting.

Exeter lift Premiership trophy at Twickenham (above) seven days after winning Champions Cup (below) in Bristol


“Something that is more global and which enhances revenue which, god knows, everyone in the game needs.”

Halliday, chief executive of European Professional Club Rugby, wants to stage the competition once every four years, involving the quarter-finalists from each of the two hemispheres’ cross-border club competitions.

“The beauty of our proposal is we are observing the current calendar,” he added. “We are extracting from within our own tournament window.

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe

European Clubs boss Simon Halliday

“Our proposal also makes sure no additional pressure is put on the elite players, because we are the last people wanting to impose unnecessary matches or tournaments on the resources we rely on for the business that we run.

“But I say ‘let’s be ambitious and think about things that can work’ whilst respecting how we can move forward alongside the international game.”





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Umaga gets England call-up but Jones picks only three of Exeter’s double winners


Jacob Umaga, nephew of All Blacks legend Tana, could make his England debut on Six Nations ‘Super Saturday’.

Days after losing out to Joe Simmonds in the Premiership Final battle of the 10s, Yorkshire-born Umaga has beaten the Exeter captain to Red Rose selection.

Eddie Jones is without seven of the squad that won against Wales last time out for the trip to Italy, where victory could secure England the title in the championship’s delayed final round.

George Ford, Elliot Daly and Joe Marler yesterday joined Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis and Luke Cowan-Dickie in being ruled out.

Jones: “I like the way Jacob attacks the line. He reads the game well”

Yet so impressed is Jones with Umaga, scorer of a dazzling try at Twickenham, that the 22-year-old is one of only two fly-halves in his 36-man squad.

“Jacob is a young guy who has plenty of courage in the way he plays,” said Jones. “I like the way he attacks the line. He reads the game well.

“The way the game’s changing, when you get quick ball now you’ve got to be able to go quickly. You can’t sit back and wait for things to evolve.

Dan Carter peaked at 35 years old, says Jones

“The ability to make decisions quickly is extraordinarily difficult. So you need a 10 who’s very instinctive, who just does it. It’s something you can’t coach.”

Jones likens fly-halves to sushi chefs in that it can take them a whole career to perfect their art. He claims Dan Carter only hit his peak at 35.

“The development of the player is something no-one knows,” he explained. “All you can try to do is put him in an environment and encourage him to play to his strengths.

Jones (above) has backed Owen Farrell (below) to continue as England captain despite his recent red card tackle


“He might graduate very quickly and be able to make sushi at the corner stall – and then he might be able to make sushi at a five-star restaurant.”

Owen Farrell remains Jones’ first choice as captain and, in Ford’s absence, is almost certain to start at fly-half.

“He will definitely be in the restaurant,” said Jones. “Whether he is serving sushi or eating it, we’ll see.

Jack Willis, 2nd right, returns to England squad

Ollie Lawrence could fill midfield void left by injury to Manu Tuilagi

“Owen is the most professional player I have seen. A guy that has this unbelievable desire to win. He wants to play for England, he wants to be the best captain we have had.”

Farrell has not played since being banned for a red card high tackle on September 5. The plan was to shake off the rust against the Barbarians, only the Covidiots had other ideas.

If that cancellation tested Jones’ patience, so too did being asked to justify picking only three of Exeter’s double-winning team.

Double-winning Exeter captain Joe Simmonds has been omitted by Jones…

…as has his brother Sam, Europe’s player of the year

“At the end of the day it’s my judgement call,” said the Australian. “We’ve come to the decision this is the best 36. A number of good players out there will be massively disappointed and they are two of them.”

England squad

 

Backs: J Cokanasiga, O Farrell (capt), G Furbank, W Heinz, J Joseph, O Lawrence, M Malins, J Marchant, J May, D Robson, H Slade, O Thorley, J Umaga, A Watson, B Youngs.

Forwards: T Curry, T Dunn, B Earl, C Ewels, E Genge, J George, J Hill, T Hill, M Itoje, J Launchbury, L Ludlam, B Obano, D Ribbans, J Singleton, K Sinckler, W Stuart, S Underhill, B Vunipola, M Vunipola, H Williams, J Willis.





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Now let’s conquer the world, Exeter chief Tony Rowe tells his double winners


Exeter chairman Tony Rowe has challenged his double-winning club to kick on again and become champions of the world.

Rowe was one of the lucky few at Twickenham to see Chiefs beat Wasps 19-13 to add the Premiership title to the Champions Cup won seven days before.

Becoming just the fourth English club to win both in a single season put the lid on Exeter’s rise from nowhere men to kings of the continent.

But Rowe immediately ripped it off and challenged the cream of Devon to rise even higher.

“We need to establish ourselves as THE premier club,” said the former Royal Marine. “I want to be the premier club in the world, and we can do that. We’ve got ambitious guys here.”

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe

There has long been talk of a clash of the hemispheres, either taking the form of rugby league’s World Club Challenge between the champions of north and south, or a Club World Cup.

Nothing has come of it but Rowe clearly fancies the idea of pitting his Chiefs against, say, Super Rugby champions Crusaders of New Zealand.

“After we won the Prem for the first time in 2017 I said: we’d do Europe in five years,” he said. “How about we do the world in the next five?”

Henry Slade crosses for Exeter’s try in Saturday’s defeat of Wasps

To even utter those words shows how far the club has come since Rowe received a phone call 27 years ago inviting him to sponsor an advertising board.

Exeter played at the ramshackle County Ground, which doubled as a dog track, in the third tier of English rugby.

Rowe turned up, was shown into the VIP lounge, which he remembers being “worse than the worst transport cafe you’ve ever seen”, and quickly realised Chiefs were headed nowhere without help.

Chiefs lift European Champions Cup in Bristol last week

He became the club’s sponsor, dreamt up the Millennium Club, half a dozen tables offering matchday hospitality, and five years later took over the running of the business.

By 2006 he had sold the ground and moved Chiefs to Sandy Park, four years later they reached the Premiership and now they rule the roost – and have a hotel nearing completion.

Even a storm of biblical proportions could not rain on their parade at Twickenham where Henry Slade’s classy try and the unerring boot of Joe Simmonds saw them to victory.

Wasps put up an heroic fight, particularly given their Covid-wrecked build-up

Defeat was hard to take for Wasps who turned down a late kick to force extra time to try to win with a try – only to fluff the all-important lineout.

Attention now turns to the international game and Rowe has warned England not to over burden his players.

“All this stuff coming down about more international games – I am totally against that,” he said. “We employ the players, they are our club players.

“The reality is we bred these guys for ourselves, we didn’t breed them for England. England can get too greedy. We don’t get compensated enough.”

EXETER – Try: Slade. Con: J Simmonds. Pens: J Simmonds 4.

WASPS – Try: Umaga. Con: Gopperth. Pen: Gopperth 2.





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Exeter 19-13 Wasps: Class of Slade delivers double delight for Exeter Chiefs


England star Henry Slade banished the ghost of Exeter’s Twickenham past to bring double delight to Devon.

A week after his try helped Chiefs become European champions, Slade scored another beauty as Exeter became just the fourth English club to win the Premiership and Champions Cup in the same season.

The pain of three defeats in the last four Premiership finals was washed away in a monsoon as Rob Baxter’s side overcame a mighty late scare to seal the deal.

“This feels so good after our previous years of heartache in finals,” said an emotional Slade. “For the last few weeks to go as well as they have is just unreal.”

Going: Slade en route to try line and his 18th minute score

Gone: Slade crashes over line despite attentions of Jacob Umaga

The classy centre had dreamt of this moment since last year’s final when Exeter coughed up an 11-point lead to Saracens after his try had put them firmly in the box seat.

That was an altogether different occasion, a 10-try spectacle played in glorious June sunshine in front of a bumper crowd.

Here it rained throughout, with player voices echoing around the empty arena as the contest raged predominantly between the two 22s.

Slade with his man of the match award

Wasps will rue their late decision to go for the corner instead of the posts and blow the chance of extra-time.

Had Gabriel Oghre’s throw not been intercepted on the Exeter line they might even have won their first title since 2008.

How sweet that would have been given they lost four players to coronavirus and had the best part of a week of sleepless nights wondering whether they would even be allowed to play.

Alec Hepburn is congratulated after winning a scrum penalty for Exeter

It was typical of a club with such a rich tradition of defying the odds that they used the adversity to fuel their title tilt.

It produced a stunning first half try for young fly-half Jacob Umaga, pouncing on a mistake by Jonny Hill in jumping out of the defensive line to dance into the hole and away for the try.

That put Wasps ahead but it was a short-lived affair as Joe Simmonds levelled the scores five minutes later.

Chiefs win a lineout before the heavens really opened on Twickenham

The Chiefs captain was not finished and as the weather deteriorated further he coolly slotted two late kicks to settle the issue.

Few will begrudge Exeter their success given that two of the three finals they lost went to a Saracens team later found to have cheated the salary cap.

“We’ve learned from losing finals,” said Simmonds, who extended his unbroken goalkicking streak to 33.

Jack Nowell played through pain of ruptured foot ligaments

Jack Willis is mobbed by team mates after a big turnover on his own try line

“The boys worked so hard for these opportunities and over the past eight days we have taken them.”

Having been unable to celebrate their European triumph due to this game, Exeter headed back west in high spirits.

The only downer came with confirmation that Jack Nowell requires an operation to repair ruptured ligaments in his foot and will miss England’s Six Nations finale in Italy next Saturday.

Dan Robson clears his lines under pressure from Luke Cowan-Dickie

Wasps captain Joe Launchbury is consoled by team mate Josh Bassett

Baxter admitted: ”It’s a relatively long-termish injury, not like a knee reconstruction, but it’s relatively long term.

“You’ve got to give him great credit for deciding that he wanted to really drive these last few weeks of his club season.”

EXETER: S Hogg 6; J Nowell 7, H Slade 9, O Devoto 7, O Woodburn 6; J Simmonds (capt) 8, J Maunder 7 (S Hidalgo-Clyne 60, 6); A Hepburn (B Moon 60) 7, L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 60, 6) 7, H Williams (T Francis 60, 6) 7, S Skinner 7, J Hill (J Gray 55, 6) 6, D Ewers 6, J Kirsten 7, S Simmonds 6.

Try: Slade. Con: J Simmonds. Pens: J Simmonds 4.

WASPS: M Minozzi (L Sopoaga 58, 7) 7; Z Kibirige 6, J de Jongh (Le Bourgeois 73, 6) 6, J Gopperth 7, J Bassett 6; J Umaga 8, D Robson 7; T West (B Harris 54, 7) 7, T Taylor (G Oghre 51, 6) 7, J Toomaga-Allen 7, J Launchbury (capt) 8, W Rowlands 7, J Willis 8, T Young 7, T Willis (J Gaskell 46, 6) 6.

WASPS – Try: Umaga. Con: Gopperth. Pen: Gopperth 2.

Man of the Match: Henry Slade.





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Exeter boss says rugby’s challenge is to survive pandemic as Wasps get all-clear


Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter said rugby’s priority was simply to stay alive – after the Premiership Final dodged a Covid bullet.

The English game breathed a collective sigh of relief as virus-hit Wasps were cleared to play Baxter’s Euro kings in Saturday’s showpiece.

It meant Bristol, who had been put on standby to take their place, were stood down and the prospect of a club already knocked out of the competition being crowned champions was mercifully avoided.

Baxter admitted such a scenario, which undoubtedly would have damaged the credibility of the league, would have felt “odd”.

Exeter celebrate winning European Champions Cup last Saturday

But he went no further, arguing that until the nation escapes the pandemic rugby’s financial survival HAS to come first.

Baxter said: “The biggest challenge for rugby at the moment is not who wins trophies, it’s going to be staying around as a professional viable sport over the next 12 months.

“Look, it (playing Bristol) would have felt odd, it would have felt weird, it would have felt difficult to have to provide a game in some odd way.

Chiefs boss Rob Baxter

“But the answer can’t be that you let a team that has a Covid outbreak play. So what do you do, create trophies by default?

“The reality is rugby clubs can’t afford to skip games and not have television revenue. They just can’t. The only thing producing revenue at the moment is games on TV.”

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe warned in these pages last month that England’s top clubs faced financial ruin unless fans are allowed back into games soon.

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe

He revealed that Chiefs, the only top flight club to turn a profit prior to the pandemic, were losing £1 million a month.

“People have to stop and grasp the fundamentals of what is currently happening in professional sport,” added Baxter, whose side are through to a fifth straight final.

“Someone can always come up with a better answer but the better answers aren’t always realistic or rational when you start asking ‘What do you want to do about the money part of it?’”

Jack Willis leads charge for Wasps during semi-final victory over Bristol

Wasps are just relieved to be given the green light having had 11 players and staff test positive either side of the weekend.

One more positive and they would have forfeited but yesterday’s results came back clear, allowing them to return to training for the first time in a week.

Crisis is therefore averted this time but with the new season only a month away Baxter admits he is scared Covid will catch up with his team.

Henry Slade out to repeat Exeter’s 2017 Premiership final triumph over Wasps

“I’m terrified of it myself, I don’t mind telling you,” he said. “We’ve had hardly any of it in the camp. The boys have been locked down and have been fantastic.

“But that can’t go on forever. It’s impossible. It isn’t just going to go away is it? We’re in an area where, sooner or later, unless a vaccine happens, it’s going to get into the community.

“And once it does we could be one of the most affected clubs because we haven’t had it.”





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Covid-hit Wasps close to losing glory shot to Bristol team they beat to get it


Wasps’ place in English rugby’s showpiece final is hanging by a thread after coronavirus spread in their camp.

Three days after four players tested positive three more suffered the same fate, increasing the likelihood that beaten semi-finalists Bristol will instead play Exeter at Twickenham on Saturday.

A further round of testing has been ordered for both clubs today with a final decision set for tomorrow.

Bristol were informed of the development just as they were about to kick off a Hawaiian themed party to celebrate their European Challenge Cup triumph.

Jack Willis cuts through Bristol defence during Wasps’ commanding 47-24 semi-final win

The players, some of whom stayed up all night after Friday’s cup win over Toulon, were told to stop drinking alcohol, put holidays on ice and get their heads around the idea of taking on Champions Cup winners Exeter.

Bears boss Pat Lam said: “It’s not ideal but this whole season hasn’t been ideal – just as everything with Covid, the whole situation the world is in, isn’t ideal.

“This season will have an asterisk on it and rightly so. People will look at the asterisk and say ‘oh that was Covid and that was a shocking time’.

Exeter Chiefs celebrate becoming European champions last weekend

“Of course Wasps and Exeter should be contesting this final. We absolutely believe that. They thoroughly deserve it.

“But we’re rugby ready and if we’re told we are to play we’ll adjust and adapt. You can either be a fighter or a victim, think ‘poor us’ and ‘this isn’t right’ or get on with it.”

Wasps’ first team squad have not trained since beating Bristol 10 days ago and are understood to have been isolating away from the outbreak. But that won’t save their Twickenham dream if Covid claims anyone else.

Jack Willis tackles Callum Sheedy in Wasps’ semi-final win over Bristol

The club, which now has 11 positives including training staff, will not return to training before tomorrow afternoon even if they get the green light.

Given Exeter are in their fifth Premiership final and flying high after becoming champions of Europe, it makes for a huge task for whoever ends up playing them.

Chris Ashton completes his hat-trick for Pat Lam’s Barbarians in their 2018 defeat of England at Twickenham

If it is Bristol, Lam says he will dig out the template he used in 2018 to coach the Barbarians to victory over England on three days training.

They dressed up and had a good drink that week too, for all the harm it did them. Come game day they stuck nine tries on Eddie Jones’ team.





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