United Rugby Championship outfit Cardiff are close to putting their recent, ill-fated trip to South Africa behind them after the club confirmed they're repatriating their last six remaining squad and staff members.
The vast majority of the group flew back from Cape Town last week after a surge in cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant led to South Africa being added to the United Kingdom's red list for travel.
Six squad and staff members were forced to stay behind and undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus, however.
Those same personnel will have to serve another 10 days in a Covid-secure location once they return to the UK, one factor questioned by the club as they confirmed those left behind have already started to return home.
"One player has already arrived in the United Kingdom, three are currently in transit and the remaining two individuals will depart Cape Town tomorrow (Friday)," read a statement from the club.
"While the club are pleased to repatriate the individuals, they must now enter a second 10-day period of isolation at a Government approved hotel, having already quarantined for 10 days at a South African Covid-19 facility."
The fallout stemming from that short-lived trip to South Africa mean Cardiff will be without 32 of their regular squad for Saturday's Champions Cup curtain-raiser against titleholders Toulouse.
Academy coach Gruff Rees—leading the first team while director of rugby Dai Young is in quarantine—has cobbled together a squad of academy players, semi-professionals and the few senior members who didn't travel.
The situation could have been worse considering Welsh rivals Scarletsforfeited their own Champions Cup clash against Bristol Bears, having struggled to put together a team following their return from South Africa.
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Further quarantine measures place greater pressure on Cardiff for the fixtures ahead, however, with Young suggesting those who were in South Africa also won't face Harlequins next Saturday (Dec. 18).
"This is a situation which impacts hundreds of people returning from red list countries, who have already served a 10-day quarantine following a positive Covid-19 test," Cardiff's statement continued. "We are seeking clarification from DCMS [the UK government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] as to why a second quarantine is required for the individuals in this unique situation.
"The main priority of Cardiff Rugby remains to support the health and well-being of our people and we will continue to work alongside the relevant parties to deliver the best outcome."
Those 32 players currently in quarantine at a hotel just outside London are approaching the end of their isolation period.
The optimal outcome from Cardiff's appeal would be for those returning players to be granted clearance to return to full training once they've tested negative for Covid-19, without the need for another quarantine.
The Welsh government was criticised by some members of the Cardiff staff, with chief operating officer Rhys Blumberg deriding its "absolutely appalling empathy" as the squad was stranded in South Africa.
Wales' first minister, Mark Drakeford, called those comments "simply and entirely wrong" after the minister for health and social services, Eluned Morgan, suggested no exceptions would be made for the squad.
The club encountered difficulty organising their return from South Africa and were forced to fly into England due to the fact there's no Covid-secure facility in Wales suitable to accommodate the squad.
Those fixtures that were to be played in South Africa will be rescheduled for later in the season, though the country's red-list status will determine whether they take place on 'home' soil.
Wales winger Josh Adams acknowledged the current situation as a "mad scenario" but backed his side to cause Toulouse some issues come Saturday.
“I think it is important the lads who are behind who haven’t travelled to South Africa just bring a lot of excitement to this week as best we can, encourage the young academy boys who are training with us and go out there and play with no fear," said the 26-year-old.
“There is no pressure on us – I am sure everybody is expecting Toulouse to beat us – but within our little inner circle, we are quietly confident we can cause them problems."
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