The European Champions Cup semi-finals and final have been postponed by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Matches at the same stages of the Challenge Cup have also been postponed.

The EPCR Board held a conference call on Monday to discuss the move and confirmed their decision on Tuesday.

They remain committed to completing the two competitions despite the COVID-19 outbreak, which has had a devastating impact on global sporting schedules.

But the 2020 finals in Marseille will not take place on May 22 and 23 as scheduled, while the semi-finals originally due to be held across May 1, 2 and 3 will also be moved.

The April quarter-finals had already been postponed and all three of the remaining rounds will be rescheduled in collaboration with the continent's major leagues.

"In making the decision, the board is abiding by the official directives and recommendations of the relevant authorities in its territories to restrict the COVID-19 pandemic," read the EPCR statement.

"In light of the earlier postponement of its quarter-final matches and with fixtures in Europe's professional league competitions currently suspended due to the public health crisis, EPCR believes it necessary to provide as much clarity as possible to all stakeholders regarding the knockout stages of its tournaments.

"To that end, EPCR is working with the leagues and unions to restructure a conclusion to its season as part of a wider rescheduling of the remainder of the season in Europe, with all contingencies underpinned by the requirement to protect the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community.

"It is planned to reschedule the quarter-final and semi-final matches, as well as the Marseille finals, in line with fixtures in the professional league competitions, subject to advice from government and local authorities."

Fans will be entitled to a refund if they are unable to attend on the rearranged dates.

The Premiership has been suspended for five weeks and the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Premiership Rugby's decision followed new guidance from the United Kingdom government on Monday.

British prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to avoid mass gatherings and all "non-essential" travel and contact with others.

"The safety of our fans, players and staff is our first priority, and we would like to wish all of those who are affected our heartfelt best wishes and a very speedy recovery," a Premiership Rugby statement read.

"We'll continue to work closely with DCMS [the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] and Public Health England, and to follow the advice of medical experts, and work with our clubs to help them to support their own wider communities at this time."

The decision to call off the European rugby season was taken during a conference call on Monday.

It means the matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5 will not now go ahead as planned, although organisers hope to rearrange the fixtures for later dates.

In a statement, the board of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said: "While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, EPCR, in conjunction with the relevant leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to complete the 2019-20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments at such a time as that aligns with preventative measures undertaken by an overwhelming majority of sport's governing bodies and tournament organisers in Europe.  

"EPCR's priority is the health and welfare of players and club staff, and an update regarding the knockout stages of the tournaments will be communicated to all stakeholders as soon as practicable."

Saracens have been fined €50,000 for fielding Titi Lamositele against Racing 92 without a valid work permit but the holders will remain in the European Champions Cup.

There were reports that Sarries could be thrown out of the competition after European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) brought a misconduct complaint against them.

The champions of Europe and England faced an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Friday as a result of Lamositele's appearance in a crunch Pool 4 clash with Racing last month, which took place a day after his documentation expired.

United States prop Lamositele came off the bench in a crucial 27-24 win at Allianz Park on January 19 but may have been ineligible due to what EPCR described as "an inadvertent administrative error on behalf of the club".

A tweet from the Champions Cup revealed that the London club have been fined €50,000, half of which is suspended until the end of the 2020/21 season.

Sarries will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the season for breaching salary-cap regulations but could still retain the Champions Cup.

The victory over Racing saw them through to the quarter-finals, with a showdown against Leinster to come on April 4 in a repeat of last season's final.

Saracens could face more punishment after Titi Lamositele played in a crucial European Champions Cup victory over Racing 92 last month a day after his work permit expired.

The European and English champions are already facing relegation from the Premiership at the end of the season for breaching salary-cap regulations.

Sarries will face an independent disciplinary committee on Friday after European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) brought a misconduct complaint against them.

Lamositele came off the bench in a 27-24 win over Racing on January 19, but may have been ineligible due to what EPCR described as "an inadvertent administrative error on behalf of the club".

An independent disciplinary committee consisting of Roger Morris, Pamela Woodman and Jean-Noel Couraud will hear the misconduct complaint in London.

The London club face Leinster in the quarter-finals at the Aviva Stadium on April 4 in a repeat of last season's final.

Will Skelton has been banned for four weeks for a dangerous late tackle on Brice Dulin in beleaguered Saracens' crucial European Champions Cup win over Racing 92 on Sunday.

Skelton was shown a red card just before half-time at Allianz Park after his shoulder struck full-back Dulin's head.

Sarries went on to win 27-24, setting up a quarter-final at Leinster, a day after their relegation to the Championship at the end of the season was confirmed due to salary-cap breaches.

Skelton attended an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Tuesday and the Australian is set to miss the European champions' Premiership clash with Harlequins, two encounters with Sale Sharks – in the league and Premiership Rugby Cup – and a top-flight game at Wasps.

The towering 27-year-old's guilty plea, good disciplinary record and expression of remorse were taken into account when his sanction was handed out.

Skelton will be available to return against Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens on February 29.

Sarries travel to Dublin to face Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in a repeat of last year's final in the first week of April.

 

 

Billy Vunipola looks set to miss the entire Six Nations after Saracens confirmed the England number eight suffered a broken arm in their European Champions Cup victory over Racing 92.

Vunipola was hurt in the early stages of Sunday's contest at Allianz Park, with fears he had suffered a fracture that would lead to a lengthy lay-off.

In a statement on Monday, Saracens confirmed the 27-year-old had broken his arm for the fourth time in the last two years.

Although the European champions did not put a timescale on his recovery, it appears certain Vunipola will miss the Six Nations, which runs from February 1 to March 14.

Saracens' statement read: "Billy Vunipola has suffered a broken arm.

"He will see a consultant over the coming days to determine the full extent of the injury before undergoing rehabilitation."

The news also represents a significant blow to Sarries, who have endured a nightmare week with confirmation of their impending relegation from the Premiership due to salary cap breaches.

With the club set to play in the second tier of English rugby in 2020-21, the futures of their England internationals, including Vunipola, have come under scrutiny.

Billy Vunipola is a major doubt for England's Six Nations campaign after sustaining a suspected broken arm on Sunday.

The number eight went off in the sixth minute of Saracens' 27-24 victory over Racing 92, a result that proved sufficient to ensure the week in which it was confirmed they would be demoted from the Premiership after breaching salary cap rules ended with progression to the European Champions Cup quarter-finals.

Vunipola has previously broken his right arm twice and his left arm once in the past two years and looks set to miss out on a place in Eddie Jones' Six Nations squad, which is set to be announced on Monday.

"They suspect a broken arm," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall. "I hope it's not. I don't think it's been confirmed yet."

The 27-year-old featured in every England game as they finished as 2019 Rugby World Cup runners-up to South Africa.

England begin their Six Nations campaign away to France on February 2.

Saracens will face Leinster in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals - a repeat of last season's final - after the scandal-hit London club finally found something to smile about.

Breaches of Premiership Rugby's salary cap have seen Saracens hit with a severe punishment, with the club told on Saturday they will be demoted from the top tier of English rugby at the end of the season.

Their domestic achievements and their dominance of the Champions Cup, which they have won in three of the past four seasons, have come in for fresh scrutiny since it emerged Saracens had broken the rules.

Director of rugby Mark McCall told his players to set the off-pitch problems aside on Sunday, and a dramatic 27-24 win over Racing 92 proved enough for Saracens to book a last-eight place after Gloucester lost 35-14 to Toulouse later in the day.

Owen Farrell booted a match-winning late penalty for 14-man Saracens, who had Will Skelton sent off in the first half and lost Billy Vunipola to an arm injury.

Two tries from Maro Itoje and one from Mako Vunipola were countered by Racing, whose five-pointers came from Virimi Vakatawa, who dotted down twice, and Louis Dupichot.

Saracens led 17-7 at one stage but were 21-17 behind at the break, turning the game around with Itoje's second try before England captain Farrell nailed a 75th-minute penalty.

At the final whistle, Saracens were not sure of their place in the quarter-finals, with a two-hour wait until that was confirmed.

Racing beat them to top spot in Pool 4, and to grab one of the three last-eight places allocated to the best runners-up Saracens needed Gloucester to fall short against Toulouse.

The Cherry and Whites were well beaten in France, going down by five converted tries to two at Stade Ernest-Wallon, with Romain Ntamack running in two of the Top 14 side's scores.

It means Saracens face another appointment with Leinster, the team they beat 20-10 at St James' Park last May to be crowned European champions.

This time Saracens must travel to Dublin to tackle the 2018 Champions Cup winners.

During Leinster's run to European glory two years ago, Saracens lost away to the Irish outfit in the quarter-finals.

Sunday's other matches involved teams whose run in this competition is over for another year, with Munster beating Ospreys 33-6 and Montpellier grabbing a thrilling 35-29 success against Connacht.

 

Quarter-final line-up (ties to be played on April 3-5):

Clermont Auvergne v Racing 92
Toulouse v Ulster
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
Leinster v Saracens

Ulster secured a European Champions Cup quarter-final spot with a 22-15 defeat of Bath, while Northampton Saints and Glasgow Warriors stayed in the hunt for qualification on Saturday.

Clermont Auvergne sealed top spot in Pool 3 with a 26-19 victory at Harlequins, but Ulster knew a defeat of Bath would see them through as one of three best-placed runners-up.

The Pro14 side got the job done in the second half after the two sides were level at 7-7 at the break, Robert Baloucoune and Will Addison going over to add to a first-half try from Marcell Coetzee before Billy Burns was on target with a penalty.

Tries from Ruaridh McConnochie and Ross Batty, who was later red-carded for a no-arms tackle on John Cooney, were not enough for Bath to end the competition on a high note.

Northampton did all they could to advance as runners-up with a 36-24 victory at Top 14 high-flyers Lyon in Pool 1.

The Saints will go progress if either Saracens or Gloucester fail to pick up maximum points wins on Sunday after Mike Haywood, Teimana Harrison, Cobus Reinach, George Furbank and James Fish touched down in a bonus-point triumph at Matmut Stade de Gerland.

Glasgow must hope defending champions Sarries, whose relegation from the Premiership at the of the season for persistent salary-cap breaches was announced on Saturday, and Gloucester slip up after demolishing Sale Sharks 45-7 in Pool 2.

Leone Nakarawa set the tone early on with one of six Glasgow tries at the AJ Bell Stadium, where Adam Hastings scored 15 points from the tee.

Leinster made it six victories out of six in Pool 1 with an 18-0 defeat of Benetton Treviso, while Sam Simmonds grabbed a double as Pool 2 winners Exeter Chiefs saw off La Rochelle 33-14 at Sandy Park.

Beleaguered Sarries host Racing 92 on the final day of pool matches reeling from the announcement that they will drop of out of the Premiership, while Gloucester travel to Toulouse.

Leinster maintained their 100 per cent European Champions Cup record with a 42-14 thrashing of Lyon, while Racing 92 left it late to beat Munster and reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.

Last year's runners-up Leinster cemented their spot at the top of Pool 1 with a bonus-point triumph on a day which saw second-placed Northampton Saints produce a comeback to beat Benetton Treviso.

Leinster struggled to shake off Lyon in the first half and only led by seven points at the break, but the Pro14 champions scored 21 points without reply in the second half at the RDS Arena.

Dave Kearney touched down twice, with Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter getting in on the act in a six-try hammering from Leo Cullen's men.

Leinster have now won nine consecutive pool games for the first time in the competition.

Saints made far harder work of a vital 33-20 bonus-point victory over Treviso, the Premiership side having fallen 17-12 behind heading into the final 25 minutes.

The returning Harry Mallinder, back after more than a year out with a knee injury, got the home side up and running with a try inside five minutes.

However, the rest of the first half belonged to the Italians, who were ahead courtesy of Tommaso Benvenuti's smart score following an interception.

Needing a win to keep their visitors at bay in the race for second spot, Northampton finally sprung to life after the interval as Henry Taylor, Francois van Wyk, Fraser Dingwall and Andy Symons all crossed.

Teddy Iribaren's inventive long-range pass to set up a try for Teddy Thomas was an eye-catching highlight from Racing's dramatic 39-22 Pool 4 home win against Munster.

A second try for recalled France wing Thomas late on was followed by scores from the brilliant Virimi Vakatawa and Juan Imhoff, seeing Racing through and putting Munster down to third with a decisive clash against Saracens to come in the final round of pool matches.

Saracens kept their European Champions Cup defence alive despite Rhys Carre's early red card at Ospreys, while Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse and Exeter Chiefs booked quarter-final spots.

Prop Carre was shown a straight red card for a shoulder-led tackle on Dan Evans just four minutes in, but the reigning champions went on to claim a crucial 22-15 triumph at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Fly-half Manu Vunipola was successful with his six efforts from the tee, which consisted of five penalties and the conversion of Alex Lewington's try off Richard Wigglesworth's box kick.

Sarries consequently moved up to second in Pool 4 and three points behind Racing 92, who face Munster on Sunday.

A battling 31-31 draw with Glasgow Warriors was sufficient for Exeter to reach the last eight for just the second time in their history, with only the crossbar denying them the win via a 60-yard Stuart Hogg penalty beyond the 80th minute against his former club.

Tommy Seymour touched down in the opening minute as the Warriors surged into an early 14-3 lead, but Matt Kvesic's double helped ensure the Chiefs got a bonus point and progressed as Pool 2 winners.

Second-half tries from Alivereti Raka and George Moala led Clermont from behind to a 29-13 win at home to Ulster, the Top 14 side taking control of Pool 3.

Toulouse guaranteed a last-eight berth by winning 21-7 at Connacht. Jerome Kaino, Julien Marchand and Pita Ahki cross for the visitors, who were reduced to 13 men in the closing stages when Zack Holmes saw red for a dangerous tackle after Yoann Huget was sent to the sin bin.

Gloucester lost Danny Cipriani to injury after 12 minutes but remained in contention to advance as one of the three best runners-up with a 29-6 bonus-point win against Montpellier.

Ben Morgan, Louis Rees-Zammit and Todd Gleave marked their returns to the starting line-up with tries, the latter coming after Paul Willemse was shown a yellow card for collapsing the maul.

La Rochelle bolstered their hopes of progressing in the European Champions Cup with a hard-earned 30-23 victory over Sale Sharks.

The Top 14 side were trailing 16-15 at half-time but then capitalised on indiscipline from Sale, who had Chris Ashton sent to the sin bin and Valery Morozov sent off midway through the second half.

Tries from Geoffrey Doumayrou and Gregory Alldritt turned the match around in the French outfit's favour as they nudged up to second place in Pool Two, ahead of Glasgow Warriors.

In Friday's other encounter, Harlequins claimed the bragging rights over Bath with a 25-19 triumph at The Rec.

Brett Herron's 10 points with the boot proved to be crucial, with his penalty 11 minutes from time helping see out the win after Jackson Willison's try brought Bath within three points.

The victory moves Quins up to third place in Pool Three, though they trail second-placed Clermont by seven points. Bath sit at the foot of the group after five straight defeats.

Leinster have dismissed the suggestion Johnny Sexton could leave at the end of the season for a return to the Top 14.

Reports in France have claimed Top 14 leaders Lyon are hoping to bring former Racing 92 fly-half Sexton in to replace Jonathan Wisniewski, who is said to be considering retirement.

However, Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster moved to put an end to the speculation on Monday.

"There is certainly nothing from our end," said Lancaster.

"Johnny is contracted to Leinster and Ireland until 2021, so the only conversation I have had with Johnny is how can he get better, how he can help Leinster get better and how can he play for Ireland

"I can't see any merit in that [moving]."

Sexton is sidelined with a knee injury and Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said last week he is unlikely to return to action until the start of Ireland's Six Nations campaign.

Leinster became the first side to qualify for the European Champions Cup quarter-finals by defeating Northampton Saints 50-21 in Dublin on Saturday.

Exeter Chiefs overpowered domestic rivals Sale Sharks while Clermont Auvergne crushed Bath in Sunday's European Champions Cup action.

The all-Premiership clash at Sandy Park saw Exeter lead just 7-3 at the break, but the Sharks were eventually thumped 35-10 after capsizing in a hailstorm-interrupted second half.

Sam Simmonds crossed in each half while brother Joe also grabbed a try for the Chiefs, who sit top of Pool 2 after a fourth successive win in this season's competition.

They appear certainties to seal a place in the last eight for just the second time in their history, as they have a firm grip on a pool that also includes Glasgow Warriors and La Rochelle.

Sam James scored the only try of the contest for Sale but the heavy loss on their travels leaves the struggling Sharks with just six points to their name.

Clermont, meanwhile, moved to within a point of Pool 3 leaders Ulster thanks to a 52-26 thrashing of Bath at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Alivereti Raka and George Moala both touched down twice for the Top 14 side, who had the bonus point wrapped up by half-time as they scored eight tries in the rout.

Bath went over four times themselves to collect a losing bonus, though they remain rooted to the bottom of the table as their wait for a European victory this season goes on.

European Champions Cup organisers have launched an investigation into a mass melee during Saracens' win over Munster on Saturday.

Tempers flared during the second half of a 15-6 Pool 4 victory for the defending champions at Allianz Park.

Sarries assistant coach Alex Sanderson alleged in an interview with BT Sport that a comment about England hooker Jamie George's weight made by the Irish province's chief medic sparked the fracas.

Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, later added: "Clearly, this shouldn't happen, we all know that. I don't think what was said to Jamie was good at all. It started a 30-man brawl.

"Owen Farrell got penalised for running into the melee but, from what I saw, 29 other people ran into it. It was a strange penalty to give and it was instigated by a member of their staff who said something horrible to one of our players.

"Something pretty bad was said at Jamie. He wouldn't have reacted the way he reacted otherwise. We'll take our time to decide whether we do anything."

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) on Sunday confirmed it will look into the ugly scenes.

"EPCR has decided to investigate incidents which occurred during the second half of the Champions Cup, Round 4 match between Saracens and Munster Rugby at Allianz Park yesterday," a statement from the governing body read.

"Information will now be sought from the match officials and from both clubs, and EPCR will be making no further comment until the investigation has been completed."

Munster remain second behind Racing 92 with two matches to play despite the defeat, a point better off than Sarries.

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