New Zealand became the first country to announce its resumption of sport amid the world-wide coronavirus pandemic. Rugby in New Zealand will restart next month, following Monday’s announcement that the country will move to Covid-19 alert level 2.
The competition will only comprise of the New Zealand Super Rugby teams and will be played from June 13. The Super Rugby teams involved are Crusaders, Highlanders, Chiefs, Hurricanes and the Blues and will be known as the Super Rugby Aotearoa. Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand.
This should come as good news to all rugby-loving supporters around the world. The competition will see the five Super Rugby franchises playing each other on a home and away basis over 10 weeks, with two matches every weekend, one each on Saturdays and Sundays.
However, all these matches will be played in closed stadiums. NZR CEO Mark Robinson stated that they knew they had to take government’s lead on when it was safe for rugby to return, and that it was critical the sport did everything possible to mitigate the further spread of Covid-19. “Medical and operations 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,” Robinson said.
The much-anticipated schedule of the competition will see the Highlanders taking on the Chiefs in Dunedin on June 13, with the Blues battling it out against the Hurricanes the following day.
Rugby Australia has also announced a return-to-play strategy with the aim of starting a 12-week competition, with the Western Force and possibly Japan’s Sunwolves joining the four Australian Super Rugby teams in the Reds, Brumbies,Western Force and Melbourne Rebels. That competition is being planned to start in early July.
In England, premiership rugby is proposed for resumption in July.
Professional sports remain prohibited in South Africa and will remain so for the unforeseeable future as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic intensifies. So long as domestic air travel remains shut down, any chance of even closed-doors sport resuming in South Africa remains impractical, if not impossible. The lockdown has already impacted on sport in a significant manner.