Wales' first minister, Mark Drakeford, has referred to criticism from some members of Cardiff Rugby following their recent difficulties getting home from South Africa as "simply and entirely wrong."
Cardiff were one of four teams from the United Rugby Championship who were abruptly forced to alter their plans after flying into South Africa for a stay that was supposed to last almost a fortnight.
Scarlets and Zebre succeeded in leaving the country almost immediately, but Cardiff and Munster were each stranded until later in the week after returning positive Covid-19 cases among their groups.
Cardiff's return was complicated by the fact they could not fly directly to Wales due to there being no Covid-secure site to quarantine upon arrival, with the squad and staff now isolating in a Heathrow hotel.
The quarantine measures and the delay to their return forced director of rugby Dai Young to concede that none of those who travelled to South Africa would feature in upcoming Champions Cup games against Toulouse (Dec. 11) and Harlequins (Dec. 18).
Eluned Morgan, the Minister for Health and Social Services, said no exceptions would be made to get Cardiff home, insisting the squad and staff would be subject to the same conditions as anyone else.
Cardiff's chief operating officer, Rhys Blumberg, took to Twitter and aimed criticism at the Welsh government, tagging Morgan as he slammed the authorities for "their absolutely appalling empathy."
In a now deleted tweet, Cardiff full-back Matthew Morgan also vented his anger while isolating in a Cape Town hotel and wrote: "What a shambles of a league @URCofficial is. Shocking they dragged us out to South Africa in the first place and can't even fly us home. And @WelshGovernment is getting more of a joke day by day. Get us the f**k out of here you clowns."
But Drakeford has fired back and said those frustrations are misplaced: "I think they are simply and entirely wrong because the rules are very clear and were made very clear to them.
"We have never had a quarantine hotel in Wales because we agreed at the very beginning with the UK government that Wales would not be an entry point for red-list countries.
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"We haven't changed those rules for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who have come back to Wales via the UK system, including – for example – people who are coming back to Wales to work in the National Health Service.
"It simply wasn't right or possible to change the rules for a particular group of people who, while I have huge sympathy for the predicament they found themselves in, needed to solve that predicament in the same way as anybody else would have to solve it."
It's understood Cardiff secured a charter flight and a hotel in the capital to house them upon their return, but the Welsh government was unwilling to approve either option.
This meant Young's side were delayed until Friday morning in leaving South Africa, having seen their original Thursday departure postponed due to a restriction on flights into the United Kingdom.
The past week's events promise to have a catastrophic impact on Cardiff's campaign, not least in the Champions Cup, where the team will be coping with a skeleton crew for this month's games.
To his credit, Young—who will also miss the meeting with Toulouse due to quarantine—said Cardiff will do 'everything in their power' to field a squad, which will be made up largely of academy players and second-string stars.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said earlier this week that it was "extraordinarily difficult to make exceptions" for sports teams despite the ongoing difficulties experienced due to the global pandemic.
Cardiff are scheduled to leave quarantine on December 13 and will hope for no further disruptions between now and the end of the 2021/22 campaign.
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