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.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says his critics have the “right to hit me” and his team must be “brave” and put their “face and body on the line” to reverse their poor form.
The Gunners have lost four of their past five Premier League matches and slipped to 15th during their worst start to a season for 46 years.
Arteta dismissed talk of a relegation battle, describing the run as “a blip”.
“At the moment, I’m sorry, but we have to take the bullets,” he said.
“Dropping and dropping down the table is not the situation we want to be in. But this is our reality right now and we have to face it.
“We have to face it being brave, fighting and no-one giving up or anything.
“It’s not time to hide – it’s time to put your face and body on the line.”
The Gunners face high-flying Southampton on Wednesday (18:00 GMT kick-off), seeking to avoid losing five consecutive home games for the first time in their history.
Arsenal’s technical director Edu has called for patience from supporters as the club rebuilds under Arteta, while Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has also offered a ringing endorsement of his former assistant.
However, Arteta, who succeeded fellow Spaniard Unai Emery in December 2019, says he is happy to assume responsibility for their failings on the pitch.
“We are not winning football matches and I have to put my chest there and you have to hit me,” added the 38-year-old former Gunners captain in a news conference on Tuesday.
“You have the right to hit me because I’m not winning.
“So what else can I do? Put my head down, work harder and try to do things better and improve. That’s how we have to approach things, in my opinion.
“It’s natural. I accept the criticism and it’s part of the job.
“You can explain whatever you want but, at the end of the day, you have to win football matches and this club is too big to accept this many losses in the last weeks.
“So my chest is here – hit me, guys.”
Xhaka ‘deserves protection’
Arteta also defended midfielder Granit Xhaka who was sent off during Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to Burnley.
But Arteta says the 28-year-old warrants his support. “He has had tough times here and he’s not the only one, there’s a lot of players that have had rocky moments,” he said.
“But what I can say about Granit is that his professionalism and his commitment with the club and with his team-mates is maximal.
“He knows – and we all know – that he had a moment where he’s lost it and I know the reason why. But what I cannot do is just throw everything that he has done away because he’s made a mistake.
“We all make mistakes and I am here as well to protect the players when I see that they deserve that.
“And, for sure, Granit is one of them – for the way that he approaches every training session, for the way he wants to do things in the right way all the time and for the professional that he is.”
Two-thirds of London’s boroughs
One of London’s most famous music venues has been badly damaged in an overnight blaze.
The dome on the roof of Koko in Camden has been destroyed by fire, according to the London Fire Brigade.
Sixty firefighters helped fight the flames after the blaze broke out just before 21:00 GMT on Monday and no injuries have been reported.
The venue which began life as the Camden Theatre in 1900 has hosted stars including Madonna, Coldplay and Prince.
Station commander Jon Lewis said the fire was brought under control at about 02:30 on Tuesday, adding: “Firefighters’ quick action and hard work in the early stages meant the fire was contained to the roof and saved the rest of the building.”
Koko owner Olly Bengough said he was “deeply saddened” by the blaze, adding: “We’ll be doing our best to get the redevelopment of this iconic building back on track.”
Crews will remain at the scene throughout the day and have warned people to stay away from the area.
Koko which was closed for refurbishment, was also previously known as the Camden Palace and Camden Hippodrome and has been one of the capital’s most iconic live music venues for decades.
The Rolling Stones, The Clash and Ed Sheeran are among other star names to have performed at the venue, which is close to Mornington Crescent underground station.
It was reportedly the last venue where AC/DC’s Bon Scott was seen drinking before his death from alcohol poisoning in 1980.
In the early 80s it served as a major venue for the punk and New Romantic scene, with singer Steve Strange of the band Visage holding club nights.
Members of the public have been sharing their Koko memories on Twitter.
Marc Rustic was “absolutely gutted” having seen his first grime gig at Koko.
“MoStack was performing and it was honestly the best night of my life,” he added.
Veteran DJ Tony Blackburn who held his legendary soul nights Shakatak also tweeted about the fire.
Koko and the nearby Roundhouse effectively “bookended” Camden’s music scene, according to music writer Carl Allen.
In between the two are 60 music venues including the Dingwalls and Electric Ballroom, as well as restaurants and pubs.
On Twitter the Roundhouse said it was “really sad” to hear the news about our Camden neighbours.
Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said: “Heartbreaking watching the Camden Palace/Koko up in flames this evening, a building that holds so many memories and means so much to us in Camden.”
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan thanked the fire brigade for its quick response.
The venue was set to reopen in the spring after a “major state-of-the-art” refurbishment, after the purchase of two adjacent buildings.
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Norwich midfielder Kenny McLean is a doubt to face Crystal Palace because of a foot problem.
Josip Drmic is not expected to return until the weekend, while Ben Godfrey and Timm Klose are long-term absentees.
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson is again expected to be without a host of first-team players.
Christian Benteke, Gary Cahill, Scott Dann, Jeffrey Schlupp, Andros Townsend, Joel Ward and Patrick van Aanholt are all on the sidelines.
Hodgson has revealed that Martin Kelly played with a muscle strain against Southampton, while Cheikhou Kouyate has said he has a groin issue.
MOTD COMMENTATOR’S NOTES
@chriswisey: There has been a VAR hurricane swirling around the Premier League in recent days, and both Norwich and Crystal Palace found themselves in the eye of the storm.
Norwich really do need to start making marginal gains on those above them. They were the only team in the bottom three not to win during the festive period.
Unsurprisingly, history doesn’t favour teams bottom of the table at the start of the new year. But the Canaries are determined to prove that their attractive, attacking approach is the method to escape the minefield.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Norwich City head coach Daniel Farke: “The quicker we can get 25 points, the easier we make the period where the mind games begin.
“That is why we go game to game. Don’t be too down or too high with each result.
“We know our situation and what we are trying to achieve. We are the only self-funded club on this level, and compared to the other teams we were not able to spend any money.”
There’s a real spirit about Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson’s side have come from behind to pick up points against Brighton and West Ham recently.
Norwich are not playing badly and are creating lots of chances. They’re also due a win and went close to beating Tottenham on Saturday.
- Norwich have won only two of the past 18 league meetings.
- Palace have won three of their last four away league games against Norwich, as many as they managed in their previous 15 visits to Carrow Road.
- Norwich have their worst record after 20 matches of a top-flight campaign (W3, D4, L13).
- They have won just one of their last 15 league games and are winless in seven.
- Daniel Farke’s side have conceded at least twice in nine successive top-flight home games, the second longest such run in Premier League history behind Wolves’ 11 in 2012.
- They were the only Premier League side without a win in December, despite leading in five of their seven matches. The Canaries dropped 12 points from winning positions, the most by a team in a single month in Premier League history.
- The side bottom of the Premier League going into a new year has been relegated in 23 of the previous 27 seasons, though three of the four to avoid relegation have done so in the past six seasons.
- Crystal Palace have won just one of their last six Premier League away games, after winning five of the previous seven.
- Roy Hodgson’s side are unbeaten in their 10 matches against the teams who start 2020 in the bottom nine (W6, D4).
- They have scored just four first-half goals this season, with a league-high 78% of their goals coming after the break. The fastest league goal by the Eagles this season was a Luka Milivojevic penalty in the 21st minute against Norwich on 28 September.
- Fourteen of the Eagles’ 20 league games this season were goalless at half-time, which is six more than any other side.
A 60-year-old man has been stabbed to death in a residential street in south London.
Police and ambulance crews were called to reports of a stabbing in Woodcroft Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon, at 21:30 GMT on Monday.
The victim was found outside a property with knife injuries and was pronounced dead at 21:49, the Met Police said.
A 50-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and taken into custody.
The suspect became unwell while in custody and was transferred to hospital where he is in a stable condition, police said.
Det Ch Insp Simon Harding said: “The victim was found injured in a residential street. While it is not a heavy footfall location, there may have been members of the public travelling through Woodcroft Road who saw something.
“I urge those people to come forward and speak to my officers without delay.
“No matter how insignificant you think it may be please do make the call.
“We are building the sequence of events leading up to and immediately following this attack which has led to a man’s death, your call could complete the picture.”
Inquiries into the circumstances continue.