6N: France-Scotland to be postponed after 11th virus player

PARIS (AP) — The Six Nations rugby match between France and Scotland on Sunday will be postponed after an 11th French player tested positive for the coronavirus.

Scotland expressed its disappointment at not being able to fulfil the fixture, while fingers were being pointed in France about the origins of an outbreak that could lead to the championship being extended — just like last year.

The Six Nations testing oversight group unanimously recommended the match in Paris be postponed after the French squad went back into isolation following a positive test by an unnamed player in the latest round of checks late Wednesday.

The Six Nations council will ratify the postponement later Thursday.

“We will be working on the rescheduling of this fixture and will communicate the date in due course,” the oversight group said.

The game had been given the go-ahead on Wednesday despite 10 France players — including captain Charles Ollivon and star scrumhalf Antoine Dupont — testing positive for COVID-19 in checks over the past week. Coach Fabien Galthie tested positive soon after the win against Ireland in Dublin on Feb. 14.

The decision to postpone the game leaves Scotland in a difficult position.

Scottish Rugby said this week that any plans to rearrange the match for the fallow weekend of March 6-7 could leave the team without 10 players because those based in England and France will be released back to their clubs for domestic duty, under World Rugby’s player-release regulations.

The rest week for the tournament lies outside of World Rugby’s designated international window.

While Scotland “fully accepted” the decision of the oversight group, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said “it was disappointing not be able to play this fixture on Sunday.

“Throughout this tournament, and the previous Autumn Nations Cup, we have worked hard to maintain strict COVID protocols which have enabled us to select our strongest possible teams for these important international fixtures,” Townsend said.

“We will wait to see what options are available to play this match against France, but it remains our position that we want to have all our eligible players available to us for that fixture, so we can compete to the level we would have done this weekend.”

Scotland has one win and one loss so far. France leads the Six Nations after away wins over Italy and Ireland.

On Wednesday, French sports daily L’Equipe reported that Galthie breached protocol by going outside of the bubble before the Ireland game. Galthie has denied any wrongdoing. The newspaper also said some players went out to eat in Rome before the match against Italy the previous week.

French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte said he did not know the origin of the outbreak.

“It’s always difficult to know the origin. No one knows it,” Laporte said. “I would like to know, to tell you the truth. It’s been bothering me and I would really like to know if someone made a mistake or not.”

But French sports minister Roxane Maracineanu has ordered an internal investigation into what happened, and Laporte has backed her up.

“We want to know how we arrived at this point, because it’s true that the protocol is very strict. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a mistake made within the team,” Laporte said. “I hope not, and the first person to lead the inquiry and to find out the truth is me. But I find it hard to imagine.”

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