England-Barbarians match off after protocol breaches

LONDON (AP) — England’s rugby match against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday has been canceled because of breaches of COVID-19 protocols.

An England Rugby Football Union investigation found Barbarians players left their hotel on Tuesday and Wednesday without permission and without informing organizers about their whereabouts.

Initially, 12 players in the 23-man Barbarians squad were dropped after the breach on Wednesday was discovered, and both sides attempted to replace them. But further investigation revealed Baabaas players also left their bubble on Tuesday and did not isolate upon returning, which “resulted in the bubble environment being compromised,” the RFU said.

“The RFU is therefore left with no alternative but to cancel the game,” it said.

England couldn’t risk the match, which was supposed to warm it up for its potential Six Nations title shot against Italy next week in Rome.

The RFU said it won’t specify the number of players involved nor identify them until its ongoing investigation is complete, but former England players Chris Robshaw and Richard Wigglesworth in the Barbarians squad apologized for their actions.

The match was to be the Twickenham farewell for Robshaw, the former England captain heading to a United States club.

“I want to express my deepest apologies for breaching the Barbarians COVID-19 restrictions by leaving the hotel post training with some of my teammates,” Robshaw wrote on Twitter.

“I am sincerely remorseful for my role in undoing all the amazing work that went into trying to make it (the match) happen.”

Wigglesworth tweeted he was “Embarrassed and beyond gutted” to have let down the Barbarians and RFU.

“For that I am truly sorry.”

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

Considering the effort to establish protocols and make arrangements with Premiership clubs, Sweeney said, “We are all incredibly frustrated and disappointed that the actions of a number of Barbarians players mean we no longer feel it is safe for the game to go ahead.”

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