Scarlett president Simon Modrac has called on European tournament organizers to reconsider their stance on rescheduling matches.
The Scarletts are due to play the opening match of the Heineken Champions Cup in Bristol on December 11 and will lose the game if they do not play on that date.
This is a day after the end of the scarlet 10 days quarantine in BelfastCovid-19 has cut short a trip to South Africa.
Meanwhile, Ospreys is “ready to help” Scarlets with loan players.
Scarletts players who traveled to South Africa to play matches in the United Rugby Championship (URC) are not expected to be available to face Bristol because they will not be training for two weeks.
The region currently has 14 decent players available for the Bristol match – seven first-team members and seven on development contracts.
They will need to find nine additional players, mostly from the academy and semi-pro clubs, to play today’s match 23.
Competitors are happy to help
The European Professional Rugby Club (EPCR), which administers the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, may have to amend competition rules or allow a special loan forgiveness.
Ospreys coach Toby Booth said the Scarletts called them and asked if they had any players available.
“They asked for seven or eight,” Booth said.
“We are ready to help because it is important to see the bigger picture here.
“It would suit us to give people opportunities to play a prestigious game.”
Booth added: “The boundaries are definitely softer when you have to make a contingency plan that much, so it’s about getting everyone in the tent together and helping each other out and looking after each other.
“Obviously we need to have the player’s approval and the EPCR has to agree that the cup will not be tied through play, but hopefully common sense will prevail and we can continue to play.”
The Dragons have also held talks but rugby manager Dean Ryan doesn’t think they have enough top players on loan.
“We don’t have players he’d likely be a good fit for,” he said. “We are in talks.”
“We still have to play by ourselves. We’re probably the smallest area in terms of resources, so it’s fitting that some of the people in the flanks for us either play Bristol FC. [for Scarlets] or Toulouse [for Cardiff]?
“These conversations are ongoing and they are important because I remember playing away in Bordeaux with a lot of our academic boys and there is a balance between having experiences and safety at this level. The Champions Cup is a huge tournament and that is another thing that officials need to consider – what is appropriate and what is It is safe.
“By all means, we’re here in talks with those we can help but we need to put that into perspective. We have to make ends meet, and I’ll be honest, we’re struggling to do that right now, considering some of the issues we have” .
The Champions Cup regulations state that if the Scarletts are unable to make the first round, they will forfeit the match, declare a 28-0 result and award five points for the Bristol match.
Meanwhile, Cardiff have indicated that they will attempt their first two European matches without 32 players who have traveled to South Africa. They are in a better position as they have left six Welsh internationals at home.
The Scarletts decided to move a full squad to South Africa to help prepare for matches in Bristol and at home to Bordeaux on December 19.
Concerns about player welfare
“If we play the Bristol game without the people who are in Ulster now, there are four or five positions where we physically don’t have the body to fill that position,” Modrak said.
“We won’t be out of quarantine until December 10 and a lot of these boys in Belfast haven’t played rugby since October 22. EPCR has to look at player well-being here.
“Without 32 players in quarantine, we will have to play development players, academic players – some of whom are just out of school in their first season of senior rugby – as well as semi-pro players, who juggle their commitments to a full-on rugby. And put them against the quality side like Bristol.
“That wouldn’t be good for the integrity of the competition or these individuals. None of us had any idea that this situation was going to happen, that South Africa would be put on the red list.
“URC is a new league and what we are trying to do is support the aspirations of the league by sending our best team available to South Africa to give the best possible performance. We are doing the right thing through league and rugby.”
“For us to be penalized for this doesn’t really suit me and we need to find a fair solution because giving up the match for something beyond our control is not right.”
Any European postponements would include cooperation from the Premier League and the top 14 in France, with no weekends scheduled on the calendar.
EPCR, which administers the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, earlier said it was monitoring the situation.
“Ideally, we would have had an athlete’s exemption made in the past so that the team, while remaining in isolation, could continue training and prepare for the upcoming matches,” Modirak added.
“At the moment the best players can do in their Belfast hotel is exercise as individuals within the confines of their own rooms as well as allow them a short time outside to roam the car park.
“This is not a preparation for a high-intensity European rugby match. In our world, physical abilities are everything, if the players are ‘too little’, it can be disastrous for the career and directly increase the risk of injury.
“Scarletts have a proud history in European competition and we look forward to testing ourselves against two teams in Bristol and Bordeaux that have been among the best on the continent in recent years.
“It is very disappointing that we will not be allowed to do this on level ground.”