Harold Wilson is said to have once claimed that “a week is a long time in politics”.
Ironically, given the current news cycle, even an hour seems too long given the number of underground Christmas parties that can occur in the span of 60 minutes.
However, seven days is certainly still a long time in European rugby – given the latest developments in Champions and Challenge Cup matches.
Certainly, for Welsh teams doing their best to fill matches amid a growing list of obstacles, the events of the past week have been confusing.
The decision by the governing body of European rugby, the EPCR, to put the kibosh on all matches this weekend between the British and French teams was hardly a surprise once the French government changed its rules of trip pertaining to the UK, as cases of the new Omicron variant are increasing rapidly on these shores.
Amid all the chaos of a hastily-changing landscape, matches between the French and British sides still seemed doomed once the French travel rules were changed – the Thursday night and Friday morning meetings only confirming the inevitable.
So when the inevitable happened on Friday and those games were called off, many wondered how the delicate process of handing out 28-0 forfeits – as had been the case with all other unfinished matches so far. ‘now – would work.
A galley in terms of administration, but a necessary evil given the rod they had made for the back.
Because, as we know, the matches could not be postponed to be played at a later date. It just wasn’t up for debate.
As recently as last week, the EPCR said in a statement that it had “acknowledged” the situation in which Cardiff, Scarlets, Munster and Zebre had been quarantined in South Africa – following changes to last minute travel rules – but slammed the door shut to all kinds of postponements.
“We fully understand that this is not a path that many will want to take, but after careful consideration with all parties, postponement of matches is unfortunately not a viable option due to the extremely busy rugby schedule,” said the press release.
The rather amiable olive branch of teams being able to forgo games was genuinely offered – as if it was some sort of consolation – with the Scarlets being forced to do so with their Champions Cup opener against Bristol.
Quite simply, they couldn’t afford after their South African nightmare of fielding a squad, as Cardiff concocted a makeshift squad which, while winning the hearts of everyone who watched, still came out of it. a clash with the Toulouse European champions unnecessary.
They will do the same this weekend – traveling to English champions Harlequins with a host of injured players is only going to end one way.
The line about everyone at Arms Park last weekend bringing their boots on just in case that could have been a bit overused, but now that the matches are postponed to the downside, Cardiff and their mix-and-side side Premiership match and academy players have every right to feel aggrieved.
Neither side may have done better at a later date, but the point is that all parties caught up in South Africa – a situation beyond their control – felt that the postponement to a later date was not a viable option. .
In this sense, the U-turn operated by the EPCR would have left the man of the moment in Formula 1, Michael Masi, in awe.
Because now, suddenly, postponements are possible.
How? ‘Or’ What? It’s totally fuzzy.
When will they be played? Refer to the first answer. But in a busy rugby schedule, it’s hard to see where a spare weekend materialized last week.
Why now? Again, anyone’s guess. The hassle of not figuring out who gets a half-dozen 28-0 scores could be factored in somewhere.
All that is clear is that the travel rules now appear to be of more concern to the EPCR than they were a few weeks ago.
To complicate matters, two other matches involving French teams have already been called off this weekend, resulting in lump-sum results for the two French teams involved.
Leinster are said to be angry after their clash with Montpellier was canceled, while the Ospreys had the misfortune of giving up their game with Racing 92 less than two hours before the EPCR’s announcement on postponements.
Especially for the men of Toby Booth, it’s a cruel pill to swallow.
Granted, there is the argument that unlike other postponed French clashes, these two were called off for a handful of positive cases rather than travel reasons.
But given that the Ospreys lost a game that, had they waited an hour or two later, would have been postponed, it’s easier to feel they’ve been given a rough ride.
Of course, it should be emphasized that this is not an easy situation for the governing body.
Security is paramount, but it will always be weighed against conflicting interests and financial aspects in cases like this.
Perhaps the best course of action would have been to remove the entire tour, or even reconfigure the tournament as a whole to better accommodate the likelihood of intercontinental competition remaining off-limits for some time.
We are not there yet.
However, moving from one position to the other in the space of a week, the EPCR offered the Welsh sides little more than a slap in the face.
A week is a long time in rugby as in politics.
God knows where we’ll be when the EPCR starts looking at the schedule for a free weekend.
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