RFU charges 13 Barbarians after virus breach scuppers England game

London (AFP) –


Thirteen Barbarians players have been charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or the game, the Rugby Football Union announced Thursday, after breaches of coronavirus health protocols led to the cancellation of last week's match against England at Twickenham.

The RFU, England's governing body, declined to name the players until an online disciplinary hearing chaired by senior lawyer Philip Evans had been concluded.

The players will face a range of charges including individual breaches of the protocols -- such as leaving the hotel without permission or without informing organisers of their whereabouts -- and providing false statements during an investigation.

Former England captain Chris Robshaw, his former Red Rose team-mate Richard Wigglesworth and Scotland wing Sean Maitland were among those involved in the unauthorised nights out near the team's central London hotel last week.

Footage on social media published over the weekend showed a group of players from the invitational side, including Robshaw, taking part in a drinking session at a pub.

The RFU said there was no limit to the available punishments under a disrepute charge, with fines and match bans among the possible sanctions.

And it added the players identities would be made known when the hearing, for which no start date has yet been given, had finished.

"The RFU recognises the pressure public scrutiny is placing on the players and therefore it will publish players' names, full judgements and sanctions after the hearings have concluded," a statement read.

London's Metropolitan Police Force said Tuesday it would not be taking action against the players as it "does not investigate Covid breaches retrospectively unless they are the most dangerous and flagrant breaches of the regulations".

Cancellation deprived the RFU of some £1 million ($1.3 million) in lost broadcast income and sponsorship revenue at a time when the governing body has taken a huge financial hit from Covid-19.

It also scuppered England's plan for a warm-up match ahead of their virus-delayed Six Nations finale away to Italy on Saturday, where victory could be enough to give Eddie Jones's men the title.

But the England coach, speaking Monday, said Robshaw should be spared a torrent of abuse.

"Chris is a good young man. He's served his country well -- let's make sure we don't take it out on him too badly," Jones told Sky Sports.

Former Harlequins back-row Robshaw apologised via social media on Friday, saying he had been "irresponsible" and was "sincerely remorseful".