Rugby Football Union launched investigation after group of around 12 players – known to include Chris Robshaw – left team hotel in central London on Wednesday; Former England captain Robshaw ‘sincerely remorseful’ for breaching rules
Last Updated: 23/10/20 4:15pm
England’s game against the Barbarians on Sunday has been cancelled after a group of around 12 Baa-Baas players breached Covid protocols, leaving them unable to field a team.
The Rugby Football Union has launched an investigation after the group – known to include Chris Robshaw – left the team hotel in central London on Wednesday night to have dinner.
It is understood the RFU will consider summoning anyone at fault before an independent disciplinary panel under the catch-all charge of bringing the game into disrepute.
A deadline of 3pm on Friday had been set for the Barbarians to scramble together a matchday squad, and in their desperation, the invitational club recruited two players from the second tier of Welsh rugby.
But after learning there was an additional breach of protocol on top of the incident already known, the RFU said it had no choice but to cancel the match, which was due to be played at Twickenham.
The Barbarians game was due to act as a warm-up for England ahead of next weekend’s critical Six Nations clash with Italy.
In a statement, the RFU said: “The RFU has today cancelled the Quilter Cup England v Barbarians fixture scheduled for Sunday 25 October.
“As part of its ongoing investigation into a breach of the Covid code of conduct that took place on 21 October, the RFU has today discovered there was an earlier undisclosed breach that took place on 20 October when a number of Barbarians players left the hotel bubble without permission and without informing organisers about their whereabouts.
“The RFU has concluded that the players leaving their Covid-secure environment on 20 October without then isolating from the rest of the group on their return has resulted in the bubble environment being compromised, with the potential risk of Covid transmission from individuals outside the bubble to everyone in the Barbarians team and management.
“The RFU is therefore left with no alternative but to cancel the game.
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO, said: “We are incredibly disappointed to be calling a halt to this fixture, we know how much fans were looking forward to seeing the teams play. However, our priority is to protect the health and safety of the England squad and the other international teams they will go up against this Autumn.
“There has been a great deal of effort put into Covid codes of conduct and planning for games, including cooperation with Premiership clubs to release additional players to fulfil the fixture safely, and we are all incredibly frustrated and disappointed that the actions of a number of Barbarians players mean we no longer feel it is safe for the game to go ahead.
“The RFU investigation is ongoing and no details on individuals or numbers of players involved will be confirmed until the investigation is concluded.”
Robshaw ‘sincerely remorseful’ for breaching rules
Former England captain Robshaw, who was part of the Barbarians squad, released a public apology on Friday – confirming he was among the group of players that breached the coronavirus protocols.
“I want to express my deepest apologies for breaching the Barbarians COVID-19 restrictions by leaving the hotel post training with some of my teammates,” Robshaw said, in a statement on Twitter.
“A huge effort went into conducting this match in a safe fashion and it was irresponsible of me to break the protocols which are put in place to protect players, staff and the public.
“I understand that my actions have ultimately contributed to the cancellation of Sunday’s match and I am sincerely remorseful for my role in undoing all the amazing work that went into trying to make it happen.
Embarrassed and beyond gutted to have let Vern Cotter and everyone @Barbarian_FC down as well as the RFU. Should not have happened and for that I am truly sorry. I’ve let a lot of people down including myself and wish I’d done it differently. Sorry again.
— Richard Wigglesworth (@rwiggy9) October 23, 2020
“I promise that I will learn from this mistake and ensure something like this never happens again.”
Former England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth issued his own apology on Twitter shortly after Robshaw, which read: “Embarrassed and beyond gutted to have let Vern Cotter and everyone @Barbarian_FC down as well as the RFU.
“Should not have happened and for that I am truly sorry. I’ve let a lot of people down including myself and wish I’d done it differently. Sorry again.”