Munster Rugby chief executive Ian Flanagan has underlined the province’s commitment to fulfilling their opening European game at Wasps on December 12 but says the organisation’s priority remains the welfare of its 14 players and staff members still quarantined in South Africa.
Munster on Thursday evening posted a 10-minute in-house interview with Flanagan giving an overview of the past week’s events which saw Johann van Graan’s squad caught up in the emergence of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa, the postponement of two games in Pretoria and Johannesburg and then a scramble to leave the country prompted by the imposition of travel restrictions on people leaving the region.
A group of 34 Munster players and staff departed Cape Town on Tuesday night and arrived in Ireland the following day but were forced to leave 14 colleagues behind in a Covid-designated hotel after they returned positive tests. Those left in South Africa must complete a mandatory 10-day quarantine before they are allowed to return home.
Flanagan said he was in daily contact with the confirmed cases and that some had experienced mild Covid symptoms but the group had full access to medical and mental health attention thanks to the assistance of the South African Rugby Union.
“The key point I want to make is that for now, even though we’re a professional rugby club, rugby is completely secondary to everything that’s going on at the moment,” the CEO added. “Our priority first and foremost is our people, the health and safety of our people and that we get them back to Ireland and that everyone is safe and well.”
While head coach van Graan and the rest of the returnees must complete a period of self-isolation at their homes or in hotels for those sharing accommodation, there is a group including captain Peter O’Mahony and other internationals as well as academy players that did not travel to South Africa and who will form the rump of the matchday squad for the trip to Coventry and a Heineken Champions Cup opening pool game against Wasps a week on Sunday.
Competition organiser EPCR on Thursday announced they were re-opening player registration for the tournament until next Wednesday, December 8, to enable Munster and other teams who had been stranded in South Africa including Cardiff, to bring in players on short-term contracts or loan deals.
“We’re in regular contact with EPCR,” Flanagan said. “We’re not the only club in this situation travelling back from South Africa having significant groups of players unavailable for the upcoming fixtures so it’s very much a case of an ongoing dialogue with EPCR to see where we end up in those conversations.
“So the group at the HPC is being led at the moment by Ian Costello, our academy manager, and ably led also by our captain Peter O’Mahony and all of the internationals who did not travel to South Africa. That group is preparing well for the upcoming game against Wasps.
“As well as our international players we have rehabbing players, we have players from our academy, we have our provincial talent squad players, we have national talent squad players all training together at the HPC at the moment.
“Obviously the key point to make is we are in the middle of a pandemic, the last few days have shown us that the best-laid plans can be torn up and that we have to be agile, we have to be adaptable. We're prepared for whatever comes next in the coming days and weeks of the season.
“Again, what the last few days have shown us is that plans can change and we have to adapt to changes in the environment. But as things stand, yes, as long as we can field a squad of 23 players who can go out there and represent Munster, we intend to complete the fixture and to take the field against Wasps on Sunday the 12th.”