Tue 16 Feb 2021 | 09:22

New Zealand's backup plan for Trans-Tasman comp

New Zealand's backup plan for Trans-Tasman comp
Tue 16 Feb 2021 | 09:22
New Zealand's backup plan for Trans-Tasman comp
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams will play another round of Super Rugby Aotearoa if the planned Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition can’t get underway later this year.

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That’s the verdict according to Blues chief executive Andrew Hore, who backs the decision to extend the Kiwi competition if New Zealand and Australian franchises are unable to compete against each other.

The tournament is set to see the five New Zealand teams play cross-over matches with the five Australian teams in both countries, with kick-off scheduled for mid-May.

However, the playing schedule is under threat due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, which look unlikely to go away any time soon with recent outbreaks on both sides of the Tasman Sea in recent weeks.

Auckland is currently in alert level three, forcing the Blues to cancel its pre-season clash against the Crusaders at Eden Park this weekend, while the remainder of New Zealand is in level two until Wednesday.

Melbourne has also entered its fourth day of a snap lockdown, while Western Australia underwent a five-day lockdown last week.

As it stands, anyone travelling to New Zealand is required to undergo a two-week quarantine period, which would make the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition unfeasible.

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In the opening weekend of the competition alone, the Hurricanes, Waratahs, Rebels and Blues are all scheduled to play their opening matches in Australia before playing in New Zealand the following week.

That would not be possible under New Zealand’s border restrictions, leaving the cross-over competition in jeopardy even before the Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU competitions kick-off.

Hore said Super Rugby Aotearoa would be extended so that teams would play each other a third time before a grand final if Super Rugby Trans-Tasman was confirmed to be cancelled amid current restrictions.

“NZR [New Zealand Rugby] came out last week and the view has been had that we would go to a third round of Super Rugby Aotearoa [if Super Rugby Trans-Tasman is canned],” he said.

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“It gives people certainty…there’s a certain number of games that [teams know] will be played. It was deemed that it would be too difficult to shift the whole competition across the Tasman.”

Plans to extend Super Rugby Aotearoa have also been supported by Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark.

“We’ve got a plan B and you’ve got to play what’s in front of you,” he said.

“At the moment what’s in front of us is that we can’t travel [to Australia] and there’s no bubble that’s looking like it’s happening.

“So, if that happens we’ll have to put our plan B in place which would be playing more games in New Zealand.

“There was definitely an appetite for the first two [rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa] and I think if we got to beat each other up again, I think there is.”

The prospect of New Zealand teams squaring off against each other over the course of yet another round is likely to be a source of concern for the players and coaches involved given the high attrition rate that come with the highly-popular Kiwi derbies.

Despite a resurgence in fan and public interest in Super Rugby across New Zealand during Super Rugby Aotearoa, the physicality and intensity of the matches caused a high injury toll throughout the competition.

It was a similar story for the North vs South match, a fixture revived after an eight-year hiatus that won over fans and players alike, but has kept Highlanders prop Ayden Johnstone (concussion) and Crusaders midfielder Braydon Ennor (knee) sidelined five months later.

The likes of Brad Weber, Bryn Hall, Ash Dixon and Gareth Evans last year voiced their concerns over the player welfare aspect of Super Rugby Aotearoa and a Kiwi-centric playing calendar.

“I think as a consumer, if you’re a New Zealander, you love watching it. Think about Super Rugby Aotearoa, how much it’s been packed stadiums, quality rugby every single week,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod last July.

“It’s tough, and I don’t think it is sustainable if you wanted to have competition with just New Zealand teams.

“Let’s say we played three times, we all played three times, I don’t think it’s sustainable, and it’s probably going to dilute the product as well playing every single Kiwi team.

“I think whatever the decision is moving forward, it just has to be a competition that is competitive, every team that is available.”

Super Rugby Aotearoa is scheduled to kick-off next week, when the Highlanders host the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 26.

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New Zealand's backup plan for Trans-Tasman comp | Rugby365