New Zealand Rugby plans to run a series featuring its five Super Rugby teams starting on June 13, becoming the first major rugby nation to restart elite competition.
Details of the series were first reported last week, and NZR confirmed the competition yesterday after the New Zealand government moved down the country’s Covid-19 alert level to ‘two’. The government last week said that professional rugby and netball could resume at this alert level.
The rugby series will be called Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa. Matches will be played behind closed doors, and the competition will be broadcast live in New Zealand by pay-television broadcaster Sky. Two matches will be played on Saturdays at 5:05pm local time, and two on Sundays at 3:05pm.
Reuters reported that the competition had been endorsed by Sanzaar, the alliance of the Southern Hemisphere’s major rugby unions, also including Australia, South Africa and Argentina. Super Rugby is usually contested by teams from the four nations, plus the Sunwolves from Japan.
In a statement announcing the new series, NZR said it had “detailed plans in place to protect the health and safety of everyone involved”. A set of protocols for playing rugby at alert level two have been created and are to be approved by the New Zealand government. They include daily Covid-19 symptom and temperature checks for players, team management and other officials and contact tracing practices. Anyone involved who feels unwell will be asked to stay away, self-isolate and get tested for the virus. Teams will fly in and out of match venues on matchdays by charter flight, and kick-off times have been selected to ensure they have time to get home.
NZR medical manager Karen Rasmussen said: “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.
“Team members will be asked to minimise their contacts outside of the team environment and their family bubbles.”
Striking a positive note about the series’ start, NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson said, “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.”
NZR also announced that provincial competition the Mitre 10 Cup would start on September 11. All 14 teams will take part. The organisation is “continuing to look at options” for this year’s women’s competition the Farah Palmer Cup, and national team women’s matches.