Barbarians point the finger at RFU over Covid breach

Barbarians point the finger at RFU over two Covid breaches by 13 players which led to late cancellation of England fixture at Twickenham

  • Lawyers claims players received clearance through RFU channels to venture out
  • Players were told they could go for a walk in Hyde Park, visit a cafe and play golf
  • Some players went to a quiet pub which they felt posed less of a Covid risk

The RFU have been accused of being partially complicit in the breach of Covid protocols by Barbarians players which led to the cancellation of their fixture against England last month.

Thirteen players, including former national captain Chris Robshaw and ex-England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, were charged with ‘conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union and the game’ after leaving their London hotel on two successive nights, to visit a local pub and restaurant.  

When details of the activity came to light — including a video of the group drinking in the pub — they were widely condemned and several players apologised.

Footage showed Barbarians players breaking coronavirus rules, including Chris Robshaw (left)

Having called off the England v Barbarians game on safety grounds, two days before it was due to take place at Twickenham on October 25, the RFU announced disciplinary proceedings.

Sportsmail has learned that preliminary hearings have been taking place since last week and lawyers acting on behalf of the players have sought to highlight what they argue amounts to RFU complicity. It is understood that the legal representatives claim that the players received clearance through RFU channels to venture out of their hotel.

It has emerged that after training the Tuesday before the match, players were becoming restless about being cooped up. An RFU official who had been brought in to oversee the Barbarians’ Covid protocols sought to clarify if they could venture out of their hotel.

The two nights out resulted in the cancellation of the game against England

This involved a call to the RFU’s director of medical services, Dr Simon Kemp, who confirmed that the players could go for walks in nearby Hyde Park, visit a cafe and even play golf. The news was announced to the Barbarians squad by a member of the RFU security staff on duty at their hotel — Prince Harry’s former bodyguard, Bill Renshaw.

While none of the squad played golf, some did go for a walk and went to the cafe. It is understood they were surprised by how busy it was but were confident that they had been given RFU approval to go there. When some players went to a local pub that night it was very quiet — posing what they considered to be much less of a Covid risk than the crowded cafe.

On the Wednesday morning of that week, before any breaches of protocol had come to light, the RFU official overseeing the Barbarians’ Covid arrangements considered the situation to be under control and returned home.

Richard Wigglesworth (centre) was another Barbarians player among those to go for dinner

However, the official was hurriedly summoned back into the ‘bubble’ after a group were found to have gone to a restaurant that night.

Restrictions on movement had become fluid and not just in the Barbarians hotel. England were not in lockdown mode either, with players allowed to spend a couple of days at home during that week.

It is understood that lawyers for the Barbarians players who have been charged have argued that it would be unfair for their clients to be severely punished when RFU staff had created the sense of protocols being flexible.

The trip to the pub took place the night before Robshaw and 11 others dined out in a restaurant

Sources have indicated that the union’s expectation was that an independent panel would impose eight-week bans and heavy fines but, given the context, the players are now optimistic that sentences will be more lenient.

Last night, the RFU insisted that the preliminary hearings to date have merely been an administrative exercise and that the main disciplinary process has not started, with the panel yet to be finalised.

The union denied that any legal representations have been made in relation to case evidence and anticipate that verdicts — which are entirely at the discretion of the panel — won’t be reached until the end of this month.

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