A blank weekend beckons and fixture chaos looms. That is the chilling reality which has hit the Guinness Premiership as the cold snap has threatened to bite rugby union more ferociously than any sport.
Half of the six fixtures in England's elite division were postponed yesterday – a full three days before they were due to take place – and the other three scheduled matches will all face inspections tomorrow. Premier Rugby has tried to stave off the inevitable by employing its new pitch protection kits – which amount to covers and heaters – at the grounds, but the primary concern is spectator safety.
It is feared that Worcester versus London Irish and Harlequins versus Leeds will go the way of Bath-Northampton, Sale-Saracens and Northampton-Gloucester. Genuine optimism does surround the Leicester-Wasps encounter and Premier Rugby has shown its determination by persuading Sky Sports to rip up their cherished schedule and bring forward their live game from 5.30pm to 3.15pm. But the forecast for Leicester is not good and piles of snow flanked the Welford Road pitch yesterday.
Explaining the early calls, Phil Winstanley, rugby director at Premier Rugby said: "All parties have reluctantly agreed that under the circumstances postponing the matches now is the best option for supporters, players and administrators. Snow and ice make it potentially too dangerous for spectators and presents significant concerns for access for the emergency services. In the expected conditions it is likely the matches would not gain safety certificates."
Which leaves the Guinness Premiership in a real mess. With every other weekend already accounted for up until the end of the season, the only available slots in the ridiculously-packed calendar are the Six Nations weekends of 13 and 20 March. This would obviously mean the clubs doing battle without their international players and, just as obviously, this would lead to rows about certain clubs being disadvantaged in the process.
The picture is further complicated not only by Sale and Wasps already having to cram in their postponed fixture – caused by the Londoner's refusal in November to play on a sodden Edgeley Park – but also by the semi-finals and final of the LV Anglo-Welsh Cup also being scheduled for these two weekends. Something will plainly have to give and that something will very likely have to be one of Premier Rugby's policies. "Our preference is to avoid midweek matches," said a spokesman. "But we will just have to see what happens. We are in the hands of the weather."
It is much the same sorry story in the Magners League with Ulster v Ospreys and Connacht v Dragons already off. Tomorrow's Leinster versus the league leaders Glasgow and Saturday's Edinburgh v Blues game both seem highly unlikely to survive pitch inspections today, while Munster are doing all they can to ensure Musgrove Park in Cork is fit to host the Scarlets on Sunday, but as a back-up they have turned the heaters on at Thomond Park, 80 miles up the road in Limerick. Perhaps someone should alert them to the likelihood that their Llanelli foes will not be able to travel over from west Wales.
Club v country: Potential problems
Sat 2 Jan Coventry v Doncaster, Rotherham v Nottingham (both Div One)
Sun 3 Jan Connacht v Leinster (Magners League)
Fri 8 Jan Ulster v Ospreys (Magners)
Sat 9 Jan Sale v Saracens, Bath v Northampton (Guinness Prem)
Sun 10 Jan Newcastle v Gloucester (Guinness Prem)
Clubs worst affected:
This weekend's postponed games could create club v country conflict as they are likely to be rescheduled to clash with the Six Nations.
Bath M Banahan, L Mears, D Wilson (Eng).
Northampton B Foden, S Geraghty, D Hartley (Eng); S Gray, E Murray (Scot).
Gloucester O Morgan, L Narraway, M Tindall (Eng); A Dickinson, R Lawson, A Strokosch (Scot).
Sale M Cueto, A Sheridan, M Tait (Eng); D Bishop, M Jones, D Peel (Wal).
Saracens S Borthwick, A Goode (Eng); M Aguero, C Nieto (It).Reuse content