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England-Barbarians scrapped after second virus breach

The RFU said an investigation had revealed a second incident in which COVID-19 rules were flouted in addition to the 21 October case announced previously.

England players during a training session on 22 October 2020. Picture: @EnglandRugby/Twitter

LONDON - England's match against the Barbarians this weekend has been cancelled after a fresh breach of coronavirus rules by Barbarians players came to light, the Rugby Football Union announced on Friday.

The RFU said an investigation had revealed a second incident in which COVID-19 rules were flouted in addition to the 21 October case announced previously.

Former England captain Chris Robshaw was among those in a group of around 12 who broke the rules by leaving the Barbarians hotel on Wednesday to have dinner.

That left the invitational side trying to fill gaps in their squad ahead of Sunday's match at Twickenham, designed to act as a warm-up for England's delayed Six Nations international away to Italy in Rome next week.

But the RFU said the discovery of a second incident in which the regulations were flouted meant it was left with no option but to call off the match.

"As part of its ongoing investigation into a breach of the Covid code of conduct that took place on October 21, the RFU has discovered there was an earlier undisclosed breach that took place on October 20 when a number of Barbarians players left the hotel bubble without permission," the governing body said in a statement.

It said the potential risk of transmission of the virus meant it had no alternative but to cancel the game.

'LET YOU DOWN'

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney expressed his frustration at having to call off a match which, although meant to be played behind closed doors, would have been televised.

"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," he said.

"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."

Harlequins veteran Robshaw apologised on Twitter for his role in the cancellation, saying: "I want to express my deepest apologies to @Barbarian_FC @EnglandRugby and the rugby family for letting you down this week."

The 34-year-old flanker, for whom the match would have marked a farewell to English rugby before he moves to the United States to play for San Diego Legion, accepted his actions had been "irresponsible".

Former England coach Clive Woodward criticised the "stupidity" of the players. The 2003 World Cup-winning boss told Talksport radio: "These are professional players and they know what's at stake. It's live on TV, it's a game that everyone was looking forward to.

"I can't believe they've been so naive and stupid to think they can get away with it... It's called a bubble for that reason.

"Some of the players went out, some of them didn't. Some players listened, some haven't, which makes it even worse in many respects."

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