England flanker Sam Underhill says Bath remain in the dark over their Premiership fate as they wait to discover if they have made the play-offs or not.
The 24-year-old and his team-mates were sat third in the table ahead of last Sunday’s prospective final day in the Premiership, and were involved in a four-horse race to qualify for the remaining three semi-final places – table-toppers Exeter having already qualified.
Sale returned 16 positive Covid-19 tests, however, resulting in the Premiership postponing their clash with Worcester until Wednesday. Meanwhile, Underhill and Bath faced Saracens, and ended up drawing 17-17 in north London, leaving them in danger of missing out on the top four after Wasps and Bristol both won.
Despite Bath having completed all their regular-season games, a Sharks victory on Wednesday would push Bath down to fifth. A highly-unusual position for Underhill and co to be in…
“Yes it’s a bit weird, isn’t it?,” the England flanker exclusively told Sky Sports.
“I don’t think anyone would wish the season to end this way. I think it’s probably pretty symbolic of the rest of the year.
“We were obviously disappointed with the result [draw at Saracens]. It’s pretty disappointing for us too being in a winning position and our performance on Sunday wasn’t great. But we’re still hopeful that there’s another game to come.
“I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on at the moment. We’ve got to prep for Exeter, I guess, because that’s the only outcome that could be for us.
“We’ve got to prepare for that like we would any normal week. There’s obviously going to be stuff around it. But I suppose as a player, you’ve kind of got to try and ignore the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘possibles’, and focus on what you can sort of control.”
Since the restart, what lengths did Bath go to as a club to ensure an outbreak did not happen?
“There’s quite a lot now, that’s fairly routine,” Underhill says.
“As players, we probably don’t think about it as much now, but say on a Monday we’ll come in, it’s Covid-testing day. So you have a test in the morning and then have a socially-distanced day in the gym, the pitch and everything.
“Then when the test comes back on Tuesday, negative for everyone, then everyone can train as per usual. And then normally we get tested on a Monday and then on a Wednesday or Thursday. So you get two tests a week which is obviously varied when the schedule was changed with midweek games and stuff. But you try and minimise.
“There’s a bit of contact tracing in the training environment. So if you’re having a conversation with someone face-to-face with that person, and it’s on the training video and later transpires that person had a positive test, you’d be isolated as having spent time with that person.
“I think the medical team have been all over it, and the analysts as well, because they’ve got a massive job. Coaches and analysts who have got to sit through hours of training footage and figure out if someone did have a positive test, who they’d been talking to, who they’d been playing next to, how long they’ve been in contact with them and all that stuff.
“I probably couldn’t tell you all the work that goes on behind the scenes. But there’s a lot done by the medical staff and by the coaches.”
Were the players at Bath given any warnings to ensure the squad adhered to all the protocols?
And what kind of sanctions would there have been if there had been an outbreak?
“I think most of us were aware that if you can’t field a team and you forfeit the game, you forfeit the points. But it’s one of those, you know, you’ve got a gestation period,” said Underhill.
“You’ve got an infection period, and that can be quite a big time-span.
“My sister’s a doctor and she was trying to explain it all to me because she has the same thing, but working in hospitals is a lot more intense because it’s not rugby, it’s patients.
“You can sum it up by saying: be sensible. If you don’t need to be getting in a car with someone, don’t. If you don’t need to be going to a big crowded space, don’t. If you do, you have to wear a mask.
“There’s obviously rules in place. I think it’s like there’s a new normal, isn’t there?”
Bristol head coach Pat Lam recently admitted he does not even hug his teenage sons at home any more because it is too risky.
Lam also seemed to suggest something out of the ordinary must have happened at Sale for them to have returned 19 positive cases – 16 to players, three to staff.
“I don’t know enough about it, about the situation or about the club,” Underhill says.
“It’s clear and obvious that it is a very infectious and contagious thing. Obviously it spreads quite quickly.
“As rugby players, you spend an awful lot of time in close proximity. So it’s hard to tell how much of it could be bad luck.
“You get the super-spreaders – there was chatter about that in the early days of sort of lockdown. So you don’t know how much of it is to do with bad luck or circumstance, and how much it might be to do with whether people are not following rules.
“I don’t know enough about it to say. I do know I feel for the players involved because it’s not something anyone wants.
“It’s not the way anyone wants to finish the season. It’s not a position you want to be put in as a player. So it’s quite unfortunate.”
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