Ulster v Leinster postponed as Covid continues to wreak havoc with URC

Interpro is one of three matches to be called off this weekend due to positive tests

Three United Rugby Championship (URC) matches at the weekend have been cancelled including Ulster’s home game in Kingspan Stadium against Leinster. Dragons v Cardiff and Edinburgh against Glasgow Warriors have also been cancelled due to a number of Covid-19 cases affecting four of the clubs.

"The United Rugby Championship can confirm that three of this weekend's R9 fixtures will not go ahead as scheduled due to a number of Covid-19 cases affecting four teams," said the URC in a statement on Wednesday evening.

“The games were due to take place on Saturday and Sunday (January 1 and 2), however, a number of positive Covid-19 cases in Cardiff, Dragons, Ulster and Glasgow Warriors squads have been reported.

“The URC Medical Advisory Group has liaised with the medical teams at Cardiff, Dragons, Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and their respective health authorities and deemed that these fixtures cannot go ahead as scheduled. The United Rugby Championship will now consider available dates to reschedule these games.”


Ulster had earlier suggested there were problems when they cancelled their pre match press briefing, explaining that “some uncertainty remains around whether the Ulster v Leinster fixture, scheduled for this Saturday at Kingspan Stadium, will be able to go ahead.”

For Leinster the consequences of the match not proceeding are worth considering as Cullen is now facing a European match in early January with a squad of players who are increasingly undercooked.

The last match Leinster played was their 45-20 win against Bath on December 11th. Since then their scheduled games against Montpellier in the Champions Cup and Munster in the URC have not been able to take place.

With the Ulster match falling through, Leinster now also have the following weekend, January 7th, free as their game against South African side Lions was postponed since before Christmas.

The Round 10 fixtures in the URC involving South African teams, which were due to take place in Ireland and Italy were all rescheduled to for the final weekend of February.

The following weekend, Sunday January 16th, Leinster face Montpellier in the RDS in round three of the Champions Cup, not having had a competitive game of rugby since the Bath match.

Even for a squad as large and talented as Leinster are, having gone from their first European pool game to their third pool game without playing a competitive match, is going to be a tough task.

“We’ll try to navigate our way through this week and then we won’t play the Lions next week, that will give us a good training week and hopefully lead us into Europe and teams will be able to field teams in that window because most teams are going through some version of what we’ve gone through,” said Cullen.

Of particular concern is Johnny Sexton, who has not played rugby since he left the pitch in Ireland’s 29-20 win over New Zealand in the November international series. Heavily strapped, he departed for Joey Carbery with 17 minutes of the November 13th match remaining.

The Leinster and Ireland outhalf was subsequently ruled out of action for up to six weeks with a twisted ankle and knee and missed the final autumn game against Argentina.

Backrow Jack Conan was another November injury when he was a late withdrawal for the match against Argentina. He suffered an unspecified knock with Peter O’Mahony coming in just before the game as a replacement. Conan has not played with Leinster since their match against Scarlets on October 16th.

“They’re all good, yeah. That’s the good thing, in terms of fitness and availability, when we don’t play rugby it’s very good for your availability,” joked Cullen.

“So we’ve only three or four guys on the injury list. The Covid piece is a moving part so it’s really at what point have you had your 10 days. So we’ve got a good chunk of guys already through 10 days. Some guys are coming to the end of the 10 days.

“The frustrating one is the close contact bit, people who don’t have Covid but are just caught in some level of a chain, where they are a close contact of somebody else and might not even have Covid, or they get Covid but potentially are still gone for up to 10 days.

“But these guys are able to train away at their own devices so hopefully they’re doing well and not stuffing themselves with turkey and stuffing and all the rest. In terms of fitness injury-wise, we’re in pretty good shape.”

Munster showed that it could be done when they dusted off the cobwebs following the fall-out from their Covid affected trek to South Africa. Johann van Graan’s came back from a forced seven week break before Christmas to beat Castres 19-13 in Thomond Park.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times