New Zealand resumes Super Rugby without fans on June 13
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A domestic tournament involving New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams will begin on June 13 after the New Zealand government Monday loosened restrictions on sporting competitions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The tournament is called Super Rugby Aotearoa and involves the Auckland-based Blues, Hamilton-based Chiefs, Wellington-based Hurricanes, Christchurch-based Crusaders and Dunedin-based Highlanders. Players will be given four weeks to prepare.
Teams will play each other home and away over 10 weeks, with two matches per weekend in empty stadiums. While New Zealand moved Monday to Alert Level 2, mostly ending a five-week national lockdown, restrictions remain on the size of public gatherings. Fans will not be able to return to stadiums until those guidelines are further relaxed.
The Highlanders will play the Chiefs in Dunedin on June 13 and the Blues will play the Hurricanes in Auckland on June 14 in the first round of matches.
“The thought of five world-class Kiwi teams battling it out in 20 matches over 10 weeks should put a smile back on the faces of many people,” New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said. “I know our players are excited and I’m sure rugby fans will be as well.”
New Zealand Rugby chief medical officer Karen Rasmussen said strict safety protocols, worked out in consultation with the government, will be applied. Players and team officials will face daily symptom and temperature checks and there will be stringent hygiene and cleaning requirements.
Contact tracing systems will be put in place and anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 will be required to self-isolate and be tested.
“A major factor will be ensuring we control who enters the team bubbles and that we have necessary measures in place to mitigate against any risk to the health of all team members, as well as the health of their families and the wider community,” said Rasmussen.
“Team members will be asked to minimize their contacts outside of the team environment and their family bubbles.”
Later Monday, Rugby Australia released a plan for a domestic tournament featuring five or six teams to begin in early July.
The tournament would involve the four Australian Super Rugby teams — the ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels, Queensland Reds and New South Wales Waratahs — along with the Perth-based Western Force and possibly Japan’s Sunwolves.
The tournament would likely run for 12 weeks.
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