Chris Ashton playing for Harlequins
Chris Ashton joined Harlequins in March 2020

Harlequins wing Chris Ashton says a two-week break is “the last thing teams want” after the European cups were suspended because of coronavirus.

England’s Premiership rejected suggestions to bring domestic fixtures forward to fill the gap left by the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup.

The league said the decision was made to protect players’ welfare.

“It’s not ideal for us as players,” Ashton said on Rugby Union Weekly.

“We were due to play anyway so I don’t think it matters what competition it is. The last thing teams want is to go two weekends without a game. It keeps everyone fit and firing.”

The decision to postpone European fixtures scheduled for the weekends of 16 and 23 January came after the French government decreed its clubs should not play in the competitions this month.

It leaves a two-week gap in a packed rugby schedule this season. Once England’s domestic league restarts on 29 January, there are 22 weeks of rugby looming for any club that makes it to the Premiership and European finals.

It is not yet clear when the two rounds of postponed European pool games will take place.

The tournament has four more weekends in the calendar, with two earmarked for quarter-finals played across two legs, one for semi-finals and one for finals.

Premiership chief executive Darren Childs said of the decision to keep domestic fixtures as they are: “The welfare of everyone involved in Premiership Rugby is crucial to us and this break in the season gives us the chance to hand some much-needed rest to our hard-working players, management, staff and match officials.”

But former England wing Ugo Monye said this decision “does not make sense”.

“I understand that players and coaches need rest but they were meant to be playing this weekend,” he added.

“The calendar was set ages ago. Everyone signed up to it. You have got two competitions perfectly fit into a congested calendar, you have to consider the impact that your decision domestically could have on another competition.”

‘Premiership will be in the shadow of the Six Nations’ – Analysis

BBC rugby union correspondent Chris Jones

A number of club bosses – such as Pat Lam at Bristol and Exeter’s Rob Baxter – urged the Premiership to play matches over the next two weekends not just to free up space later on in the congested calendar, but also to ensure international players would be available for more league games before they go off to play in the Six Nations.

While this argument makes sense, it is clear there was not unanimous agreement from all the clubs, while sources have also indicated the league was keen to lessen the burden on the emergency services by not having games for a couple of weeks.

Either way, the bulk of the Premiership season from now on will take place in the shadow of the Six Nations – assuming that goes ahead as planned in February and March.

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