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Super Rugby resumes with new format

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New Zealand Super Rugby teams will return to the field on June 13 after the New Zealand government changed the COVID-19 alert level two which allows the players to resume playing.

The teams will compete in a tournament to be known as Super Rugby Aotearoa and is a New Zealand domestic format which includes the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, and Highlanders.

Teams returned to training on Monday, May 18 and will play each other home and away over 10 weeks, with two matches every weekend at 7.05 pm on Saturdays and 3.05 pm on Sundays.

Matches will be played in closed stadiums until the NZ Government advises an approach to managing mass gatherings in controlled venues that will allow fans to return.


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The match schedule for the competition has also been announced

In the opening weekend, the Highlanders will play the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday, June 13, with the Blues playing the Hurricanes in Auckland the following day. All matches will be televised.

NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson said he was delighted for fans that they would have top-quality rugby on their screens in just over a month.

“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. I know our players are excited and I’m sure rugby fans will be as well.”

Robinson said they always knew they had to take the Government’s lead on when it was safe for rugby to return, and now it was critical the sport did everything to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19.

“Medical and operational staff across NZR, the Players’ Association, and the clubs have been working together to ensure we have detailed plans in place to protect the health and safety of everyone involved.”

NZR Medical Manager Karen Rasmussen said a set of protocols for playing professional rugby at level two had been developed and will be endorsed by the Government.

She said the protocols, which include daily symptom and temperature checks for players, team management and other officials involved in the competition, as well as stringent hygiene and cleaning, contact tracing practices, and asking anyone who feels unwell to stay away, self-isolate and get 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.

The teams will also fly in and out on match days by charter flights, with the earlier kick-off times allowing teams time to return to their home base after the games.

Super Rugby Aotearoa competition format

  • A New Zealand competition involving five Super Rugby clubs; the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, and Highlanders).
  • 10 weeks (20 matches).
  • Eight matches per club – four home, four away and two byes each.
  • Two matches per weekend – 7.05 pm Saturday and 3.05 pm Sunday.
  • Match venues: FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton; Sky Stadium, Wellington; Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin; Auckland and Christchurch: venues TBC.

Meanwhile in Australia Super rugby teams will proceed with a domestic competition as part of SANZAAR’s solution for the remainder of the Super Rugby season.

The remodelled domestic competition presently has a planned start date of early July.

The Sunwolves came to the unfortunate conclusion that the Japan-based team will be unable to participate in the proposed Super Rugby AU competition.

Current restrictions in place for international travellers entering Australia in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic mean the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, if able to enter the country, would be required to complete a 14 day quarantine period within a hotel before they could begin training.

The team would also need to establish a permanent base in Australia for the duration of the 12-week competition.

On May 27 Rugby Australia confirmed that the Western Force has officially signed on to join the four Australian Super Rugby teams in an Australia-based competition to be known as Super Rugby AU.

The proposed competition will feature five teams and was devised after the Super Rugby season was suspended in March due to Government-imposed travel and border restrictions.

With international border closures remaining in place across each of the competing SANZAAR nations, plans to resume the 15-team, three conference Super Rugby format was abandoned for 2020.

Rugby Australia is aiming to stage the new competition from July 3 through to September 19 in a round-robin format, pending final discussions with broadcasters.

Rugby Australia interim CEO, Rob Clarke said: “We are delighted that Western Force has come on board for Super Rugby AU and we look forward to releasing the final elements of the competition, including the season draw in due course.

Incoming Chairman Hamish McLennan said: “The return of the Western Force in an Australian based competition is a great story.

“We are grateful for Andrew Forrest’s support and understand that decisions made by Rugby Australia in 2017 were painful for sports fans in Western Australia and the Force players, and we are sorry that they haven’t been able to share in the rivalry against their fellow Australian teams.

“I would love to continue to work with Andrew into the future as we use this opportunity to innovate and reinvigorate Rugby right across the country,” said McLennan.

“Our Australian derby clashes are always up there with the most popular matches each season, and it will be great to see those rivalries ignited again in a national competition.

“Wallabies spots will also be on the line as Dave Rennie, and his coaching team run a keen eye over the competition ahead of the international season.”

In South Africa, it has been announced that professional sports teams could begin the process of returning to training under Level 3 lockdown easing.

Mr Nathi Mthethwa, the Minister for Sports, Arts and Culture, announced at a briefing as he reported on the Department’s COVID-19 sector relief fund.

He said sports teams had 14 days to submit proposals to the department on how they would ensure the safety of the players and officials.

Mthethwa also announced that non-contact sports could return to play if they observed all the necessary regulations.

“This is the news sport has been waiting to hear as it allows us to begin to ramp up preparations for an eventual return-to-play,” said Jurie Roux, SA Rugby CEO.

“We submitted a comprehensive, staged return-to-play protocols document to the department five weeks ago, and we are ready to begin medical screening of players immediately.

“We will seek further clarity from the department on the application of the guidelines as they apply to contact training.

“But this is an opportunity for our players to enhance their lockdown training regimes by increasing their fitness work for an eventual return to play.”

SA Rugby suspended all rugby on March 18.

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