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Leinster facing into fixture logjam as Covid continues to wreak havoc on schedule

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

Leinster are facing the prospect of not having played a game in at least five weeks after their New Year’s Day clash against Ulster became the latest United Rugby Championship (URC) clash to fall victim to Covid-19.

Leo Cullen’s men have not played since their Champions Cup win over Bath on December 11, and with next week’s game against the South African outfit, the Lions also shelved, Leinster are not due back in action until their European meeting with Montpellier on January 16.

Ulster, on the other hand, are due to take on Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday week, but the northern province is now also in a race to get the necessary clearance for that derby to be given the green light.

Munster recently faced a similar testing period when they went seven weeks without playing, which included the URC break to allow for the November internationals. Leinster returned to training on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s inter-pro derby, however, their best laid plans have been scrapped, as Ulster deal with a number of positive cases within their squad.

Confirmation that the game was off came yesterday afternoon with the URC forced to postpone a further two games, Dragons v Cardiff and Edinburgh v Glasgow, as well as Leinster’s trip to Belfast. Covid has wreaked havoc with the URC’s festive schedule, though there remains some hope that Connacht will be able to host Munster this weekend.

That will be subject to the results of further testing, but at the time of writing, both squads were continuing with their preparations.

It remains to be seen when Ulster will be permitted to return to training, as they look to get a concerning outbreak under control. There is likely to be plenty of sympathy within Leinster ranks, as they too have had their Covid-related issues in recent weeks.

However, Leinster’s lengthy spell without a competitive game throws up several headaches for Cullen and his backroom staff.

The European tie against Montpellier is just over two weeks away, but with the Top 14 also ravaged by Covid over Christmas, these are nervy times for everyone involved.

Leinster had received the all-clear to resume training following their recent circuit breaker, but the lack of meaningful action is a major concern, as they scramble to ensure they make the knockout stages of Europe after the controversy that arose following the 28-0 win was awarded to Montpellier.

The URC intends to play the postponed games at a later date, but with a mounting number of ties to fit into an already congested calendar, that will be very challenging.

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