Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup pool matches will not be rearranged

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Exeter won their first Champions Cup title last season

The final two rounds of European pool matches that were postponed earlier this week will not be rearranged, Premiership Rugby has confirmed.

The games were set to take place over the next two weekends but instead the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup will go straight to a knockout format in April.

European Cup organisers (EPCR) are set to announce the revamped structure of the competitions in the coming week.

"The decision was made by the EPCR executive," said Darren Childs.

Premiership Rugby's chief executive added: "The reason we can't reschedule those is that there are no available weekends. Our season is now full right until our final.

"It was decided very quickly by all three leagues [Premiership, Top 14 and Pro14] that we would complete the [European] tournaments in the last four weekends [in April and May]."

Following a directive from the French government, EPCR said on Monday it had "no choice" but to postpone the two remaining rounds of pool games scheduled for this month.

However, while the pool fixtures will not be completed, the competitions are still set to be played to a finish, with two weekends reserved for European games in April and another weekend set aside in early May, before the finals weekend scheduled for the weekend of 22 May in Marseille.

Moving fixtures 'made no sense'

Meanwhile, senior league figures say moving Premiership fixtures to fill the void left by Europe "made no sense".

A number of club bosses, such as Bristol's director of rugby Pat Lam, urged Premiership Rugby to bring two rounds of matches forward to avoid fixture congestion later in the season and to have more international players available before they are on Six Nations duty.

Broadcaster BT Sport was also keen to show matches over the next fortnight and approached the league to discuss a scheduling change.

However, Premiership Rugby director Phil Winstanley says once it was decided not to rearrange the European games, there was unanimous support from the clubs for the decision to leave the two weekends blank.

"This provided us with the perfect opportunity to give the players and staff some downtime," Winstanley said.

"We've had 70 players in the last three weeks who have tested positive with Covid, and in that period of time we lost five games.

"It made absolutely no sense to bring games forward from later in the season to this period of time, when it is our highest [virus] prevalence and our highest risk.

"It gives us the biggest chance of losing those games and determining the outcome by allocation of points. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

"There are serious concerns about sport at the moment and how it is portraying itself, and it just presented an opportunity for us to just give ourselves a break and to support the health and welfare of the players."

Premiership Rugby bosses also confirmed that midweek rugby will not return as they continue to work through the 2020-21 season.

Should the government decide that elite sport has to stop across the UK, the decision means the Premiership season might be significantly reduced with little room for any movement within the rugby union calendar.

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