England will be without their head coach Jess Thirlby for their three-match series against World Champions New Zealand later this month after she tested positive for coronavirus.
Thirlby, who experienced no Covid-19 symptoms, described the test result as a “shock” and said she was “extremely disappointed” not to be able to travel with the team.
Kat Ratnapala, the head coach of Superleague side Saracens Mavericks who has worked alongside Thirlby and the England team as assistant coach during the past 12 months, will lead the team on the ground in New Zealand.
The 16-strong England squad and all remaining coaching and support staff travelling to New Zealand have all received two negative test results and will be following strict protocols ahead of the series, which begins on October 31.
The whole cohort will quarantine for two weeks after arriving in New Zealand and will undergo regular testing prior to the series commencing.
Thirlby, who is currently self-isolating, said: “We have been taking every precaution; remaining in small bubbles during training, having staff wear masks at all times, as well as players wearing masks when not on court, social distancing, doing temperature checks on arrival, plus self-isolating at home and undergoing a pre-flight testing plan prior to travelling.
“Whilst I’m still awaiting my second set of test results, we cannot take any risks as the safety of all involved is the priority. I have to date not shown any symptoms of Covid-19 so this result has come as a shock.
“However, I am thankful that we have a strong team in place to help support the squad in person. Kat has been working closely with the Vitality Roses and I in recent test series, and I know the team will take confidence in having her there in my absence.”
Thirlby’s positive test is the latest below for England, who were already without their regular Australian-based players due to quarantine logistics.