Sale’s hopes of reaching the play-offs have been reignited despite an outbreak of coronavirus cases at the club as Premiership Rugby announced the Sharks’ game against Worcester has been postponed until Wednesday, October 7.
With 16 of their players testing positive for the virus, Sale were staring at the prospect of having to forfeit their final regular-season fixture on Sunday, which would have led to an automatic 20-0 defeat.
Bristol would therefore have needed just a point at lowly London Irish to leapfrog Sale into the top four but after an “urgent review”, Premiership Rugby has decided to rearrange the crucial clash, under a number of conditions.
The governing body revealed the decision has been made after consultation with both clubs and Public Health England, although Sale must submit to an additional round of testing on Tuesday.
It is “essential” that any tests are clear for players to take part in the game and PHE must be satisfied with the results, while neither the Sharks nor Worcester will be able to register any new players beforehand.
Furthermore, Sale must submit to an independent audit of their track and trace processes before the game is played.
Darren Childs, chief executive at Premiership Rugby said: “There are still a number of health and safety hurdles to overcome before the match can be staged on Wednesday evening. (But) in light of the unprecedented situation facing Premiership Rugby we have been forced to postpone the match.
“Our priority is the health and well-being of everyone involved, and we won’t compromise this. But as this match has such a critical bearing on deciding the Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions, we wanted to do everything we could to play it.
“The team at Premiership Rugby has been working around the clock to come up with a solution and we’d like to thank Public Health England for their co-operation.”
Sale had insisted their match against Worcester would go ahead despite the spread of Covid-19 throughout the Manchester club, with a small number of backroom staff also returning positive tests, the PA news agency understands.
But after Sale had issued a statement saying the game would go ahead as scheduled, Worcester claimed the matter was still being discussed and Premiership Rugby waded in on Saturday morning after it had been made aware of positive tests at other clubs.
Sale currently lie fourth in the standings and need a win to guarantee their place in the semi-finals as Bristol are level-pegging with the Sharks, who are above the Bears on points difference alone.
Sale said in a statement: “Although a significant number of positive tests have been recorded, Sale Sharks have stringently followed PRL and RFU protocols throughout the pandemic in order to contain the spread of the virus.
“The club is therefore in a position to fulfil its Gallagher Premiership Round 22 fixture with Worcester Warriors, scheduled for this Sunday at 3pm.
“However, after Worcester Warriors expressed concerns regarding the safety of the fixture taking place on Sunday, we sought advice from Public Health England and Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and Premiership Rugby have decided to postpone the match until Wednesday 7th October 2020 to allow further COVID-19 testing to take place prior to the fixture.
“Sale Sharks would like to reassure its supporters that all of the club’s players and staff are currently well.”
The other five final-round fixtures will take place on Sunday, Wasps and Bath lying second and third and also needing wins to join table-topping Exeter in the play-offs.
Wasps welcome the Chiefs while already-relegated Saracens will say farewell to the top flight when Bath travel to Allianz Park.
Former England captain Chris Robshaw will make his 300th and final appearance for Harlequins before joining Major League Rugby side San Diego Legion.
Robshaw will take the captain’s armband for the game against Leicester Tigers as Quins bid to seal a sixth-place finish.
Head of rugby Paul Gustard said: “(Robshaw) has been one of the standout players in the league for over a decade and is universally respected and loved by his peers and opposition.
“There are few players that have made the impact Chris has over the years and I am delighted to read, hear and see the regard he is held in. He is more than deserving of all the praise and accolades he receives.
“While Robbo leaves the team as a player, he will never leave us as a person and will forever have a home at Harlequins. He epitomises everything that is good about our sport and we wish only good things for him.”