Rugby-NZ's delayed border reopening could impact Super Rugby Pacific

  • Rugby
  • Tuesday, 21 Dec 2021

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Wellington, New Zealand, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Praveen Menon

(Reuters) - New Zealand's decision to postpone phased border reopening plans over concerns about the rapid global spread of the new coronavirus Omicron variant could disrupt the inaugural season of the Super Rugby Pacific competition.

Non-quarantine travel, which was set to be opened for New Zealanders in Australia from Jan. 16, would be pushed back until the end of February, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a media conference on Tuesday.

New Zealand also increased the length of stay in state quarantine facilities from a week to 10 days.

The new Super Rugby Pacific competition will feature five teams each from New Zealand and Australia and two sides representing the Pacific Islands -- Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

NZR have said the competition, due to begin on Feb. 18, will proceed even in the event of COVID-19 complications and suggested the schedule could be reworked to play "local" games first and fulfil the cross-border fixtures when borders reopen.

Should border re-opening be delayed further, however, it is unclear what impact that would have on the cross-border games.

The new competition builds on 'Super Rugby Trans-Tasman', which was played between Australia and New Zealand's sides this year.

The earlier version of the Super Rugby competition featuring South African teams and Argentina's Jaguares appears unlikely to be revived following its suspension last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delayed reopening is also likely to affect A-League soccer team Wellington Phoenix, whose men's side had planned on staging nine games in New Zealand from Jan. 29 after playing all fixtures so far in Australia.

Hours before the NZ government's announcement Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay told local media that the club were not expecting to return home as scheduled.

"Every game is an away game," Talay said. "The whole season will be an away game for us and I think the boys understand that."

(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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