Scotland coach Gregor Townsend insists Sunday’s postponed Guinness Six Nations clash with France must be rescheduled for a date when he has all his top stars available.
The Scots’ Paris trip has been shelved after Fabien Galthie lost another player – the 11th this week – following a coronavirus outbreak in the Les Bleus’ squad.
Reports earlier this week suggested the game could be put back a week – but that sparked frantic calls from Murrayfield to tournament bosses.
Townsend was left worrying that if the game was re-arranged for the Championship’s fallow week he would be denied the services of 10 top performers – including Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell – who are contracted to French and English clubs.
As next weekend lies outside of the international Test window, Top 14 and Premiership sides would be under no duty to release their players for Six Nations action.
Given the scale of the outbreak in the French squad, however, next weekend now appears an unlikely option.
Discussions between the two nations plus Six Nations chiefs and TV broadcasters on a re-arranged date are ongoing and, while reports in France now say July is being considered, Townsend is adamant that whatever page is circled in the diary it must be one which allows him to name a full-strength line-up.
Townsend said: “While we fully accept the decision of the Testing Oversight Group to recommend postponing our match against France on medical grounds, it is disappointing not to be able to play this fixture on Sunday.
“We have had a good week with our players, who were focussed and ready to represent their country in Paris and continue our progress in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
“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.
“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.
“We wish all the French players and staff affected by Covid well in their recovery and look forward to playing them at a future date.”
The game has been in major doubt all week as Galthie’s squad saw top star after top star test positive, with the head coach himself among a number of backroom staff also to self-isolate.
Captain Charles Ollivon and 2020 player of the championship Antoine Dupont were among the first to contract the virus, with prop Cyril Baille, hooker Peato Mauvaka, lock Romain Taofifenua and full-back Brice Dulin also testing positive on Monday.
Tournament organisers responded by ordering the French squad to undergo daily testing – before announcing on Wednesday that this weekend’s Stade de France fixture would go ahead as planned following a full sweep of negative results.
But less than 24 hours later they have been forced to shelve the Saint-Denis showdown, with the entire Les Bleus squad placed into quarantine after the French Rugby Federation reported yet another player had contracted the virus.
Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson declared on Wednesday that Townsend’s team were “ready to go”.
But before the Scotland boss could even name his team for Sunday’s clash, it had been called off.
The Six Nations said in a statement: “The Six Nations Testing Oversight Group met today to review the situation in the French camp.
“They unanimously recommended the postponement of the France v Scotland match. This will be ratified later today by the Six Nations council.
“We will be working on the rescheduling of this fixture and will communicate the date in due course.”
France were forced to suspend their training session on Thursday morning after the latest positive result came to light.
In a statement, the FFR said: “Following the RT-PCR tests carried out this Wednesday, February 24 in the evening, and the appearance of a positive case within the squad of players, the FFR medical committee met this morning and decided to suspend training this day.
“The entire group is in isolation in accordance with health protocol. The FFR is in close contact with the Six Nations committee.”
France currently top the Six Nations table after two rounds following a comprehensive win against Italy and a narrow victory over Ireland, both away from home.
Nine of the 23-man squad that beat Ireland 15-13 in their last game were since found to have contracted the virus.
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