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Super Rugby Aotearoa to kick off in front of full crowds

Hurricanes' Gareth Evans makes a break during the round seven Super Rugby match versus the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton (by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand) competition will kick off in front of crowds this weekend, after the country’s government moved its Covid-19 warning to alert level 1 allowing mass gatherings to take place.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) confirmed on its website there will be no limit on crowd numbers when the Highlanders play the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday June 13 and when the Blues host the Hurricanes at Eden Park the following day, Sunday June 14.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced the move saying the country would be moving to alert level 1 from midnight tonight, meaning there would be effectively no restrictions on day-to-day life and business, however New Zealand’s borders would remain closed.

Super Rugby Aotearoa was established in consultation with Sanzaar after the 2020 Investec Super Rugby season was suspended on March 15 due to Covid-19 restrictions, and will be the first professional rugby union competition in the world to have fans return, with no restriction on crowd size.

The restart will be welcomed by NZR, which has been battered financially by the Covid-19 shutdown. The organisation is making 50 per cent of its staff redundant, and requiring others to reapply for their roles. NZR reported a NZ$7.5m ($4.6m/€4.2m) loss for 2019, and has forecast a worst-case-scenario drop in revenues of NZ$120m for 2020.