Premiership rugby festive fixture list in tatters after Bath v London Irish off

The Premiership’s festive fixture list is in tatters after London Irish’s match at Bath was cancelled due to a Covid-19 outbreak among the Exiles, becoming the second Boxing Day fixture to be called off due to the virus.

Irish learned of a small number of positive cases within their squad on Tuesday and after further players reported symptoms, the decision was taken by Premiership Rugby to call the match off following discussions with Public Health England. The cancellation comes just 24 hours after Leicester’s match at Newcastle was called off and while league officials had hoped that would be the only match affected, the Guardian had been told by multiple sources further disruption was expected.

There is at least optimism that the three other Boxing Day fixtures, as well as Wasps’ trip to Sale on Sunday, will go ahead with Premiership Rugby set to announce the results of the latest round of tests later on Wednesday. As is the case with Newcastle v Leicester there is no room to reschedule the match and in this instance the team directly affected by the outbreak – London Irish – are expected to receive two points and Bath four.

The London Irish director of rugby, Declan Kidney, said: “We were really looking forward to going to The Rec on Boxing Day, so we’re incredibly disappointed that we’re unable to fulfil the fixture. I’m really disappointed for the players, as they’ve acted professionally, following all the relevant guidelines, but this is the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, as the country continues to try and navigate its way through the pandemic.”

Exeter, however, are confident they field a strong side for Saturday’s match with Gloucester after undertaking additional rounds of coronavirus testing that have enabled them to get on top of the outbreak at Sandy Park. The Chiefs’ defence of their Champions Cup crown was rocked when they returned a double-digit number of positives before last weekend’s clash with Toulouse, forcing the game to be cancelled and the imposition of a 28-0 defeat for forfeiting.

“We will have a pretty strong squad to pick from based on players who have completed their isolation and guys who have now tested negative three times in a row,” the director of rugby Rob Baxter said. “And we’ll have a further test [on Thursday] morning to confirm … so we’re actually doubling up all our testing beyond that required by Premiership Rugby.”