Several post-Christmas fixtures have been called off as the pandemic continues to bite

Covid impacts on Boxing Day programme

Almost half of this weekend’s top-flight rugby programme in Britain, Ireland and Italy has been wiped out as the pandemic maintains its icy grip.

The Guinness Pro14 derbies at Glasgow, Munster and Zebre have been postponed, while the Gallagher Premiership games at Bath and Newcastle have been cancelled. There’s also been a change of venue for the West Wales derby between Ospreys and Scarlets. All but one of the affected matches were scheduled for Boxing Day.

Zebre v Benetton, due to be played at Saturday lunchtime in Parma, is the latest casualty. Benetton reported a small number of positive cases of Covid-19 and the match was called off on Christmas Day.

The same fate befell Munster v Leinster, scheduled for Saturday night. The meeting of two unbeaten Pro14 sides at Thomond Park was postponed because Leinster are awaiting “the outcomes of some of the results from their latest round of Covid-19 PRC testing”.

Glasgow v Edinburgh, a Sunday fixture, was another round-nine fixture victim. Following Glasgow’s Champions Cup match at Exeter, a small number of Warriors players returned positive cases of Covid-19. Others identified as close contacts are also isolating.

Pro14 Rugby hope to reschedule the three postponed games in early 2021.

Covid impacts on Boxing Day programme Glasgow v Edinburgh

Off: the Scottish derby between Glasgow and Edinburgh will be rearranged for the New Year (Inpho)

The Boxing Day Pro14 matches between Dragons and Cardiff Blues (3pm) and Ospreys and Scarlets (5.15pm) will go ahead as planned, as will the Connacht v Ulster match on Sunday evening (7.35pm).

However, the Ospreys-Scarlets match has been switched to Parc y Scarlets because of urgent work being carried out on the pitch at Liberty Stadium. Ospreys remain the ‘home’ team.

The English Premiership is similarly affected, the difference being that matches not able to be played are cancelled instead of postponed.

Leicester v Newcastle was called off after the Tigers returned a small number of positives tests in this week’s round of PCR testing. A large number of the squad were ruled out due to contact tracing, meaning the match couldn’t go ahead.

Bath v London Irish, another Boxing Day clash, was also scrapped after London Irish returned a small number of positive tests and had further players presenting with symptoms.

Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper, whose club didn’t play last weekend either after their match with La Rochelle was called off, said: “While we are disappointed with this news, the health and safety of everyone in our sport must be our top priority. I know this news will be hard-felt by our supporters who were due to attend.”

Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper

Furrowed brow: Stuart Hooper’s Bath team will be inactive for a second successive week (Getty)

London Irish boss Declan Kidney said the club was “incredibly disappointed” that their game couldn’t be played and that his players had followed all the relevant guidelines. “But this is the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, as the country continues to try to navigate its way through the pandemic,” he added.

A Premiership Rugby panel will determine the allocation of points in both cancelled matches. Following a rule change, it’s expected that Newcastle and Bath will be awarded a four-point win while Leicester and London Irish, as the teams forced to cancel, will be given two points.

Harlequins v Bristol (2pm), Exeter v Gloucester (3pm) and Northampton v Worcester (4.30pm) will all proceed as scheduled on Boxing Day. Sale v Wasps on Sunday (3pm) completes this weekend’s Premiership action.

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