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Further talks to be held over French clubs' European participation

French clubs may be told they are no longer allowed to compete in the Champions and Challenge Cups.

Further discussions are set to take place over the participation of French clubs in this season's European competitions as organisers look for a way to stage matches during the coronavirus pandemic.

Concerns over the new strain of Covid-19 prompted the Ministries of Interior, Health and Sport to hold talks with EPCR, who run the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, and LNR, the representative body for the Top 14.

If France's clubs are told by Paris that they are unable to compete in the remaining two rounds of group-stage fixtures, the competitions face being suspended.

A decision had been expected on Saturday, but that has been delayed as talks continue.

Exeter are the reigning Champions Cup holders
Exeter are the Champions Cup holders (David Davies/PA)

An EPCR spokesman said: "EPCR is aware of a formal communication that has been sent by the French authorities to the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) this evening (January 9) regarding the participation of Top 14 clubs in the Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup.

"No directive has been given and the LNR has been asked by the French government for its position on protocols for its clubs playing in EPCR tournaments against the backdrop of the recent detection of a new strain of coronavirus in France.

"EPCR will now discuss this matter with the LNR as soon as possible before making any further comment."

Other possible outcomes are for a number of matches to be cancelled – a course of action that would damage the credibility of the tournaments – or for the French authorities to accept the enhanced Covid measures brought in by EPCR this week as sufficient.

One of the new measures is to undertake testing three days out from a match, the timing adopted by the Top 14, while in England testing is completed on Mondays or Tuesdays.

If the French government refuses to allow the Top 14 clubs to compete this month – Bayonne and Toulon have already threatened withdrawal – it could have implications for the Six Nations.

France play their opening two games away next month and are also due to face England at Twickenham on March 13.

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