European rugby bosses have altered Champions Cup rules to allow Northampton Saints to sign Gloucester's Alex Seville and plug their loosehead prop injury gap.
Saints were heading to Exeter for Sunday’s quarter-final with rookie teenager Manny Iyogun as their only fit loosehead, with four frontline specialists all out injured.
Saints are missing Francois Van Wyk, Alex Waller, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi and Nick Auterac, and feared being forced into uncontested scrums or major safety concerns.
But now the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) board has voted for a permanent rule change, allowing Saints to bring in Seville in time for their Sandy Park trip.
"The EPCR Board has unanimously agreed to a change in the tournament rules which permits the registration of front row players after the 1 September deadline," read an EPCR statement.
"Northampton Saints have registered Alex Seville for the remainder of the Heineken Champions Cup season and Dragons have registered Conor Maguire for the European Rugby Challenge Cup campaign. Both are eligible to play in this weekend’s quarter-finals."
This European rule shift will doubtless be met with relief by both Northampton and Exeter.
As late as Wednesday afternoon Saints were still sweating on a decision, with rugby director Chris Boyd explaining: "Francois Van Wyk was our only fit loosehead (before last weekend), and Manny Iyogun would be the only (other) person in our club who could play at loosehead.
"That concerned us because Manny is a 19-year-old boy who played all his football at number eight and had never really played in a men’s scrum before.
"We approached EPCR about our plight, then the problem got significantly worse because Francois was injured on Sunday (against Leicester and was replaced by Iyogun) and is probably out for eight to 12 weeks.
"We now faced a situation where we have a youngster with zero experience, so we went back to EPCR and pleaded our case again.
"You eliminate people who can’t come into the country because of Covid restrictions around isolation, and visa applications which can’t be done in time, and the pool of players we could potentially get is pretty small anyway."
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter said he was was happy to see the situation resolved but believes recent comments from the Saints have been verging on mind games.
Baxter said: "I think outside of what has been seen in the media, club-wise we have known about this ongoing scenario and the need for EPCR to make a rule change for quite a while.
"We certainly made it clear to Northampton when they contacted us, that if the EPCR asked for any kind of rule which would allow them to register an extra player, we would agree with that and support it which we have done.
"It is interesting listening to some of the comments coming out of Northampton because just a couple of weeks ago, we played against them in a Premiership fixture and had a tighthead (Alfie Petch) on the bench, who came on and played.
"He had not played a minute of Premiership Rugby, was 20-years-old and I can’t remember anything being in the press about there being any issues about a guy playing his first minute of Premiership Rugby and the same two sides were involved.
"I think some of it is a little bit mind games if I am honest and a scenario that potentially isn’t really there when you look at what clubs have been doing in the games anyway."