New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has made the decision to relocate the six New Zealand-based Super Rugby Pacific squads to Queenstown to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19 side-lining any of the teams.
NZR General Manager Professional Rugby & Performance Chris Lendrum said the move would provide the best chance of the inaugural season of Super Rugby Pacific kicking off as scheduled on Friday 18 February.
“Under current COVID-19 regulations it would only take one positive case entering a squad environment to shut down an entire squad for 10 days. The knock-on effect for the rest of the competition would be the postponement or cancellation of matches,” Lendrum said.
“By moving the teams to a secure hub, we believe we have a good chance of preventing a COVID-19 infection, or close contact event, side-lining one of our teams for a prolonged period. The plan is currently for the teams to move to Queenstown early next week and remain in Queenstown for the opening three weeks of the competition.”
Chiefs Rugby Club CEO Michael Collins said the move to Queenstown was seen as a temporary measure with plans in place for teams to return to their home bases and regular venues in March.
“We have been working alongside New Zealand Rugby and the other New Zealand based clubs to formulate a plan to mitigate the risk of Omicron and maintain the integrity of the Super Rugby Pacific competition. While we are pleased we have been able to commit to a solution, we recognise and are grateful for the sacrifice our Gallagher Chiefs players, team management and their whānau have made in order for the Super Rugby Pacific competition to continue on schedule.”
“We know this decision directly impacts our sponsors, members and fans. However the agreed setup will continue to allow our loyal supporters to watch us compete in Super Rugby Pacific. We are disappointed the Gallagher Chiefs are unable to play at FMG Stadium Waikato this month in front of our passionate home crowd. However we want to reiterate we are working tirelessly to see how our whānau, sponsors and members are able to be involved when the Gallagher Chiefs return in round five,” said Collins.
The Gallagher Chiefs will join the Blues, Hurricanes, Moana Pasifika, and fly to Queenstown on charter flights, while the Crusaders and Highlanders will bus south over the coming weekend.
The squads will operate in separate bubbles with exclusive use of training facilities in the Queenstown area. Day matches will be played in Queenstown at the Wakatipu Rugby Club whereas teams will bus to and from Rugby Park in Invercargill for any night matches.
Matches are scheduled to be played according to the revised Super Rugby Pacific draw announced last December with all matches broadcast live and exclusive on Sky. All matches will be played without crowds at the red level of the traffic light settings.
Teams will stay in local hotels and will utilise COVID-19 protocols successfully implemented by the All Blacks during last year’s Tudor Northern Tour. While players and staff will be able to undertake some outdoor activities during their stay, they will remain in their team bubbles at all times and will be subject to regular rapid antigen tests.
Lendrum also said NZR was committed to playing Super Rugby Aupiki and is weighing the options on how to manage the tournament and four Super Rugby Aupiki squads, and would announce those details in due course