Covid-19: Exeter Chiefs set to play Bristol Bears in Premiership despite positive tests

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Exeter celebrate beating Bristol
Exeter beat Bristol 25-22 thanks to a late try when the sides last met in August

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter says he is confident they will be able to play against Bristol on Saturday despite having some positive Covid-19 tests within his squad.

The Chiefs were forced to forfeit their Champions Cup game with Toulouse last month after an outbreak at Sandy Park.

Exeter have not disclosed the number of positives but will do extra testing.

"It's had a slight impact on the availability of players but not huge," Baxter told BBC Sport.

Five Premiership games have so far been called off this season due to Covid-19 outbreaks with this weekend's East Midlands derby between Northampton and Leicester the latest to go after positive cases at Saints.

London Irish had to call off their last two fixtures while Leicester cancelled a trip to Newcastle and Harlequins had to pull out of their game at Worcester.

It comes as Premiership Rugby confirmed they will be publishing additional Covid protocols for the league around match days and training, with a spokesperson for the league said they will make the league "even more COVID safe".

"We're one of those clubs that do feel a responsibility to try and get on top of anything very, very quickly and certainly not risk players going onto the field against opposition, if there's any doubt of where they might be," added Baxter.

"We're certainly going to have another round of testing later this week just to ensure that nobody's slipped through the net, nobody's become viral later in the week and that will just ensure that when we take the field we can go with that 100% confidence, we're not risking transmitting anything to Bristol."

Derby game in third national lockdown

The derby between the two West Country rivals is the big game of the weekend, with the two sides level on 20 points at the top of the Premiership after Exeter suffered their first defeat of the season at Wasps last week.

The UK entered a third nationwide lockdown this week in order to try and stop health services being overwhelmed after record numbers of Covid-19 cases.

And while professional sport was halted during the first lockdown last year, Baxter says it is right that it continues now as he believes it has a negligible impact on the NHS.

"The actual threat of Covid within our group then becoming an issue either for the NHS or the wider populace, I think the risk is so small I would think that is why it's being allowed to continue," he said.

"If you think we're tested at least once or twice a week, ourselves now in the last month we've tested twice a week two or three times.

"You're not going to have a scenario that even if one of our players picks it up they're going to go undetected, and so be in a scenario where they're going to be potential risks to lots of other people.

"Also, we're living in an environment where they understand that they've got to stay relatively shielded when they leave the club because they don't want to be picking it up as they don't want to not play games of rugby.

"I would like to think the reasons why professional sport has been allowed to go on is for that reason, that it's deemed to be in the bigger picture relatively safe compared to your general population who are out and about and not being tested unless they develop symptoms."

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