Players have been following adapted law variations
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The Rugby Football Union has suspended its top domestic women’s league for two weeks in the wake of the deteriorating public health situation caused by the Covid-19 variant, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
Clubs in the Premier 15s have been informed of the two-week suspension amid a growing sense of uneasiness that player welfare was being put at risk with no Covid-19 testing provision in place.
The Premier 15s falls under the Government’s interpretation of ‘elite’ sport and is technically allowed to continue during lockdown. Players were following adapted law variations designed to reduce face-to-face contact, such as limited scrums and 35-minute halves.
Last week, the RFU insisted the current law variations were sufficient despite the Covid-19 variant known to be much more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus, having sought clarification with Public Health England, which it says was “comfortable” for the elite amateur league to continue in its current format.
But Premiership Rugby’s decision on Monday to put the men’s top-flight on a two-week break following the suspension of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup is thought to have pushed the RFU into considering whether it was morally acceptable for its flagship women’s competition to continue without any testing.
The RFU is set to confirm the league’s two-week suspension on Wednesday, after Six Nations organisers have released an update on this year’s women’s championship, which is expected to be delayed until at least April because of the escalating coronavirus crisis.
The Premier 15s is now expected to resume on the weekend of January 30-31 – although that date could be pushed back further depending on the public health situation.
Last weekend, two Premier 15s fixtures that involved London-based clubs were postponed after the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, declared a major incident in the capital, where case numbers have exceeded 1,000 per every 100,000 people.
Saracens’ match with Sale was postponed hours before kick-off last Saturday, while Harlequins cited “Covid concerns” among its camp as the reason for postponing its home fixture with Wasps.
The Premier 15s leaders declined to comment further when approached by Telegraph Sport, although it is understood the club felt strongly that without being able to test its women’s players, there remained an uncertain level of risk in them contracting the virus during a match setting.
It comes as Telegraph Sport has learned of at least one Premier 15s player who developed Covid-19 symptoms after playing in a fixture that went ahead last weekend and who is awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test.
Last week, US international Kristine Sommer called for coronavirus testing to be introduced in the Premier 15s amid mounting concern that players’ safety is being compromised in the wake of surging infection rates.
Sommer wrote on social media: “I’ll say it 100,000 times how grateful I am to play rugby in the UK, but when is player safety a concern? No real bubbles – no testing. This should be discussed, right?”
The versatile back rower also questioned whether the ‘elite’ status of the Premier 15s should warrant coronavirus testing, adding: “To be honest, we have ‘elite’ status, but in the case of the definition of ‘elite’ and ‘professional’, we’re technically amateur."