European rugby chiefs are monitoring the situation with Munster and Cardiff after their plans to return home from South Africa were delayed following positive coronavirus tests.
The Heineken Champions Cup is due to kick off on December 10, with Cardiff hosting European champions Toulouse the following day and Munster visiting Wasps 24 hours later.
Scarlets players and staff, meanwhile, are now understood to be isolating at a Belfast hotel after arriving in Dublin from South Africa during the early hours of Monday.
The Scarlets are scheduled to begin their European campaign against Bristol at Ashton Gate on December 11.
There are reportedly no current plans for any of those European fixtures to be postponed.
Munster and Cardiff had hoped to join the Scarlets and Zebre Parma in leaving Cape Town on Sunday aboard a charter flight after South Africa was added to the UK Government’s travel red list.
But Munster then reported one case of Covid-19, while Cardiff also remained in Cape Town following two positive cases, one of which is suspected to be the new variant Omicron, with both groups having started a period of isolation.
The United Rugby Championship had been scheduled to stage its first fixtures on South African soil over the weekend, but all four games were postponed.
“We are monitoring the situation and are in contact with the clubs,” a European Professional Club Rugby spokesperson said.
Zebre became the first of the four touring sides to arrive home on Monday morning, and a URC statement later in the day read: “Having helped to repatriate two of our teams, the URC continues to support the two remaining teams in South Africa.
“There is a widespread network of stakeholders working vigorously to ensure the safe return of both Cardiff Rugby and Munster Rugby as soon as possible and keep them comfortable at this time.
“This has been an incredibly challenging period for everyone involved, most notably the players, staff and their families.”
Round seven URC fixtures, scheduled to take place in South Africa next weekend, have also been postponed.
Munster said their players and staff will undergo another round of PCR testing on Monday, with results expected on Tuesday, but Ireland’s Sports Minister Jack Chambers has said the majority of the party are now free to travel home.
“This has been a whirlwind of a time and we are very grateful to the people in the background who are helping us during this challenging period, and for all the best wishes we are receiving,” head coach Johann van Graan told Munster’s official website.
“We have one player in a different hotel who is doing as well as possible after receiving a positive PCR result, while the remainder of the group are isolating individually at the team hotel.
“Work is ongoing with all relevant authorities in securing our return to Ireland at a time when safe and appropriate, but for now our priority is to look after our players and staff.”
Sports Minister Chambers said on Monday that there are 48 players and staff involved in the Munster camp currently in South Africa.
He said that one person has tested positive for Covid-19, while another member of the Munster delegation is a close contact.
“The South African health authorities have given approval for the rest of the Munster panel and the broader squad to travel home,” Mr Chambers said.
“The latest information is that they are free to travel, as of today.
“That wasn’t the case yesterday, so there is intensive work ongoing to try and get them, to allow them to come home as quickly as possible.”
A Cardiff statement added: “We can confirm that all of last night’s PCR tests have returned negative results. We continue to work with all relevant authorities to secure our repatriation back to Wales.
“The two players who tested positive over the weekend continue to isolate away from the team hotel and remain in good health.”
Rugby Operations Manager Gafyn Cooper provides a full update on how the boys are fairing in Cape Town. pic.twitter.com/JUysVHr9kp
— Cardiff Rugby (@Cardiff_Rugby) November 29, 2021
The gap left by the cancellation of this coming weekend’s cross-hemisphere fixtures has been filled by a pair of all-South Africa clashes, with the Sharks facing the Bulls on Friday and the Stormers taking on the Lions on Saturday.