London - Premiership Rugby on Saturday postponed Sale’s vital clash with Worcester until Wednesday after 16 Sale players tested positive for coronavirus.

Northampton have also had to forfeit their trip to Gloucester, with a 20-0 victory being awarded to the hosts. Sale had beaten Northampton on Tuesday and a number of the Saints squad have been forced to self-isolate due to their contact with Sale players. As a result, Northampton have an insufficient number of front row players available to start the match against Gloucester.

Premiership rules state that at each team must have at least six players that are suitably trained and experienced to play hooker, tight head prop and loosehead prop.

With one game of the regular season to go, Sale sit fourth in the table but ahead of Bristol only on points difference. Should they have forfeited the match against Worcester, which was due to take place on Sunday, a 20-0 defeat would also have been imposed and Sale would likely have missed out on the end-of-season playoffs between the top four.

Darren Childs, Chief Executive at Premiership Rugby said: “When we embarked on Rugby Restart back in August we said from the outset that the health and safety of everyone involved with Premiership Rugby was our priority”.

“We completed eight of the nine rounds of Gallagher Premiership Rugby without losing a match so it is with great regret that we make this announcement today,” Darren said and further added that “We understand and fully sympathise with Northampton Saints’ position. They are in this position due to no fault of their own, but unfortunately they cannot fulfil the fixture.” As a result Gloucester move above Northampton in the table into seventh.

Given the ramifications on the top four, Sale have been given a lifeline. But before the match can go ahead, another round of testing will take place on the Sharks’ players and an independent audit the club’s track and trace processes will be conducted.

“Our priority is the health and well-being of everyone involved, and we won’t compromise this,” added Childs. “But as this match has such a critical bearing on deciding the Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions, we wanted to do everything we could to play it.” Worcester said in a statement earlier on Saturday that they would only agree to the match going ahead if their players and staff were not exposed to any risk.

He maintained that the sole criterion for deciding whether a match could take place in the current unprecedented and worrying circumstances was the safety of officials and players and staff of both clubs and the risk of anyone contracting and spreading this killer disease. “Warriors would always prefer the outcome of a match to be decided on the pitch and will do so provided we are satisfied that all the Covid-19 protocols and procedures have been followed and no health risk is posed to our players and staff.”