Gloucester Rugby CEO Lance Bradley says it is going to take ‘creative thinking’ to get the postponed European Heineken Champions Cup played this season.
Yesterday, organisers of European cup rugby EPCR, confirmed Round Three and Four of the pool stage games which were due to be played over the next two weekends, have been cancelled due to the French government not allowing Top 14 clubs to participate for fear of spreading the new strain of Covid-19.
The Cherry and Whites, who heavily lost their opening game of the European season away at Lyon but then secured their best result of the campaign with a 38-34 victory over Ulster, were due to play both sides again, starting away at the Northern Irish province on Saturday.
Speaking on Radio 5 Live this morning, Bradley said: “It is another change in the season but we have always known this was going to be a somewhat unusual season and we would have to be adaptable and so it has proven.
“It is not a great surprise the French clubs didn’t want to travel and you have to understand it is a real balance. Health is obviously of absolute paramount importance but I think a bit of live sport to watch, albeit only on TV at the moment, is important for people’s mental health so there is a balance to be had.
“It is very challenging but I think we are just about getting that balance right.”
With Premiership Rugby opting not to move league games forward to fill the two weekend gap left in the calendar and the schedule jam backed from now until the Gallagher Premiership final on June 26, with the first fixture of the British and Irish Lions tour set for the same day, there is no obvious room to fit in the postponed European games.
Asked whether it can be done, Bradley said: “It is going to be a challenge, we already had games every weekend to complete it by the end of the summer.
“I think it is going to need a bit of creative and imaginative thinking, to be able to get through it.
“The format of the European competitions was already different this year to normal [four pool games instead of six and two legged quarter-finals rather than one] and actually it was working quite well, so I have pretty good confidence we can adapt that format again and still have a good competition.”
“It is a challenging season and we are trying to work together the best we can. I can only speak on behalf of Gloucester but the Premiership clubs are working quite closely to try and get games played as normally as we can.”
Asked whether he would have liked Premiership Rugby to have filled the void with league games, Bradley sat firmly on the fence.
He said: “I can see both sides of that argument, it is good to let the players have a break.
“We are at a critical point in the pandemic where we are being told not to travel if we don’t have to but on the other hand it would have created some space [later in the season] for postponed games which I am pretty sure we are going to get.”
It would also have meant Gloucester head coach George Skivington could have fielded his strongest side to face Northampton Saints at home and London Irish away, however he will now likely be without the likes of star backs: Jonny May, Ollie Thorley, Chris Harris, Stephen Varney and Louis Rees-Zammit with the fixtures clashing with the opening games of the Six Nations.
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The 2021 Guinness Six Nations, if it goes ahead, is due to start on February 6 with Italy hosting France and England against Scotland.
Wales are due to play Ireland the following day.
England players are always released a weekend early, when the Cherry and Whites play Saints, to prepare in at a mini pre-tournament camp which usually takes place in Portugal but for obvious reasons it likely to be UK based in 2021.