SALE Sharks' play-off hopes are over after last night’s game with Worcester Warriors was cancelled following five more players being testing positive for Covid-19.

Premiership Rugby confirmed the rearranged game had been called off meaning Sharks forfeit the game with a 20-0 win awarded to Worcester - with Bath now taking their fourth place.

The match was originally due to be played on Sunday but was postponed after 16 players and three backroom staff from the title-chasing Sharks tested positive for coronavirus last week.

An additional round of testing on Tuesday revealed five new players and two staff tested positive, making the AJ Bell Stadium clash unsafe to play.

A statement from the club said: “Following testing yesterday, a further seven positive tests (five players and two rugby staff) have been reported and therefore it is not safe to play.

“Sale Sharks has worked closely with Premiership Rugby, Public Health England and Public Health North West, the RFU and Worcester Warriors and would like to thank all parties for their contribution during this challenging period.

“This is devastating for Sale Sharks, the players and staff with Covid-19 denying the club the chance to challenge for the Premiership title at the final hurdle.

Messenger Newspapers:

“Sale Sharks and all involved with the club are determined to come back stronger than ever in time for next season.

"The owners are very proud of, and grateful to, the players and staff for the effort that has been demonstrated throughout the protracted season and particularly over this past week.”

The club hit back at suggestions that the outbreak came after players flouted social-distancing rules.

The statement added: “Reports over the weekend suggesting our players acted irresponsibly by partying and socialising throughout Manchester after our Premiership Rugby Cup victory are completely inaccurate and untrue.

“Health and safety has always been our top priority throughout the return of professional rugby in England and we have an important role to play in supporting the Premiership Rugby players that have tested positive for this terrible virus.”

Worcester Warriors welcomed the decision while Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said the health and safety of everyone took precedence.

“I have spoken to Sale Sharks and neither the club nor Premiership Rugby will take risks with people’s health,” he said.

“Together we won’t compromise our commitment that matches will only happen if it is safe to do so, therefore the game is off. (Wednesday’s) decision demonstrates that commitment.

“Our first thoughts are now with those at the club, both players and management, who have tested positive and we wish them a speedy recovery.

“We mustn’t forget we have a significant number of people at one of our clubs with Covid-19 and we will give the Sharks all the support they need.

“We know everyone at Sale Sharks will be devastated and we share their disappointment that their season ends this way.

“We stated there was no room in the calendar for matches to be postponed but last weekend the health of everyone involved took precedence to ensure the Sale Sharks squad could be tested again, following the initial positive tests.

“Those concerns were proved when we saw additional positive tests. People fight hard for points in the Premiership, and for a place in the semi-final, but everyone agrees this has to take second place to people’s health and wellbeing.”

A statement from Worcester Warriors said: “Worcester Warriors welcome the cancellation of tonight’s Gallagher Premiership match against Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.

“This is the right outcome for the safety of all players, staff and officials involved, although we do have sympathy for Sale that such an important match has been decided in this way.

“Sadly, we are playing rugby in the middle of a pandemic and in unprecedented circumstances.

“While it is desirable to retain the integrity of all competitions as much as possible, ultimately the health and safety of all involved has to be the absolute priority.

“Now we know that our own players are not at any increased risk, our thoughts are with those at Sale and Northampton Saints who have tested positive for COVID-19. We wish them all a speedy recovery and hope that no further cases are reported.

“Hopefully, the remainder of the season can be completed safely and securely to provide a fitting finale on the pitch.”