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Super Rugby Pacific goes domestic early due to coronavirus

December 23, 2021 GMT

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season will begin as separate Australian and New Zealand conferences after border restrictions due to the coronavirus forced organizers into revamping the competition schedule.

Rugby officials on both sides of the Tasman were hopeful of starting the expanded competition in February without travel constraints. However, the New Zealand government’s reluctance to open its border without quarantine or self-isolation will mean Super Rugby Pacific will resemble this year’s domestic-based version for the first eight matches.

Moana Pasifika — a new Auckland-based team with players of Pacific heritage — will begin the season on Feb. 18 against reigning champions the Blues at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium, rather than a meeting with the Canberra, Australia-based ACT Brumbies as originally scheduled.

The Fijian Drua had already based themselves in Lennox Head in New South Wales state and will form part of the Australian conference, with their first game against the New South Wales Waratahs at a venue to be determined.

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The new schedule announced Thursday retains the same competition format announced in November, with a full round-robin and single points table. However, the six New Zealand-based teams and six Australian-based teams will play their opening eight matches in separate countries.

The schedule revision will result in sides playing in both countries coming together for a Super Round in Melbourne between April 22-24. The goal is then to have teams from the two conferences play against each other prior to a final series in June.

“We believe these changes will allow us to navigate the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, while ensuring we maintain the integrity of the draw and the format of the new Super Rugby Pacific competition,” Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement.

“It’s been a challenging environment over the last two years, but we’re thankful to our teams and our partners in New Zealand Rugby, SANZAAR and our broadcasters for their support as we worked through this process together.”

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