Cardiff, Munster to return home but leave Covid-positive players in South Africa

Rugby giants Cardiff and Munster have been cleared for returns to their respective homes, but both clubs will be forced to abandon their Covid -positive players in South Africa.

The two clubs have been making stern efforts to leave South Africa, where the new 'Omicron' variant of the coronavirus has spread rapidly.

Both teams were in the country (along with Scarlets and Zebre) for back-to-back weekends of United Rugby Championship fixtures against South African hosts.

However, the fixtures were scrapped after the surge in Omicron cases led to South Africa being added to the United Kingdom and European Union 's red list for travel.

While Scarlets and Zebre succeeded in leaving the country on Sunday, both Cardiff and Munster squads missed out and were forced to remain after positive cases were found in their squads (two and one, respectively).

In an unfortunate twist, Munster confirmed nine new positive cases within their camp on Tuesday, though the club reiterated those with negative results have clearance from South African authorities to travel.

Cardiff Rugby chairman Alun Jones said on Monday the squad would be permitted to return home—possibly in the "next few days"—provided they can secure a flight and a hotel to quarantine in once they arrive.

However, finding an appropriate venue for 48 players and staff to isolate has proved problematic thus far.

Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan has said Cardiff Rugby can't land in Wales because the country has no Covid-secure hotels big enough to accommodate the club, who are working with the Welsh Government to find a resolution.

"My understanding is if we can get the others into suitable self-isolation in conformity with the rules and guidelines as UK nationals, they can fly back," Jones said, per BBC Sport.

Do you think EPCR should postpone matches for those clubs affected by the South Africa lockdown? Let us know in the comments section.

"It is then a question of when can we get a flight back and can we secure the correct facilities. I don't think there is a requirement to do 10 days of quarantine in South Africa.

"The sooner we can get them back the sooner the quarantine in the UK can start.

"With the best will in the world if it can be done tomorrow then brilliant. There are lots of arrangements to get in place, not just hotels but flights to enable that to happen."

The Cardiff and Munster players who tested positive for Covid—one of which is suspected of being the Omicron variant in the former's case—are currently isolating in Cape Town hotels separate from the rest of their squads.

Ireland's sports minister, Jack Chambers, also offered a positive update on Munster's situation and said those Covid-negative members of the squad had been given permission to return.

Johann van Graan's squad will undergo a 10-day quarantine of their own in Limerick once they arrive, but the Irish province will consider the news a light at the end of what's been a week shrouded in uncertainty.

“The South African health authorities have given approval for the rest of the (delegation) to return home, so there is active work ongoing now to allow Munster to get home,” Chambers told RTE.

“There is intensive work ongoing at the moment to get them home as quickly as possible but, as you know, there are difficulties in the travel situation in southern Africa at the moment.”

Cardiff and Munster will each be subject to a period of quarantine upon their returns, jeopardising their immediate schedules in both the URC and in Europe.

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the organisation responsible for both the European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, told the Daily Mirror it's "monitoring the situation" as it progresses.

Cardiff are due to open their tournament at home to Champions Cup titleholders Toulouse on December 11, while Munster are set for a trip to Premiership side Wasps the following day.

The two teams are then scheduled to face Harlequins and Castres the following weekend, respectively, but Cardiff and Munster could be forced to field teams filled by academy players, or forfeit those games altogether.

While Scarlets succeeded in navigating their way out of South Africa, they're currently quarantining in Belfast and in a race to get home ahead of their Champions Cup curtain-raiser against Bristol Bears on December 11.

Zebre are supposed to host Biarritz in the Challenge Cup on the same day, though their chances look brighter after they successfully arrived back in Italy on Monday.

Cardiff's Covid-free members will look forward to an update once it becomes clear where they can fly and quarantine upon arrival in the UK, while Munster's 38 negative staff have a clearer-looking route back to Ireland.

It remains to be seen how long those Covid-positive players from both squads will be kept in South Africa, however, as both URC teams look set to see their seasons derailed.

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