Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

The Crusaders are scheduled to host the Highlanders in the opening round of the Super Rugby Pacific in Christchurch on 19 February.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

The Crusaders are scheduled to host the Highlanders in the opening round of the Super Rugby Pacific in Christchurch on 19 February.

Super Rugby executives want the government to show a degree of flexibility that will allow the new trans-Tasman / Pacific tournament to continue in its current form, or close to it, after Covid-19 once again put rugby’s most obvious plans in doubt.

New Zealand’s plan to reopen the border and the subsequent arrival of the Omicron variant in question in Australia meant rugby executives on both sides of Tasman had to quickly turn to contingency planning last week.

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said it was not ideal to change the Super Rugby Pacific draw.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said it was not ideal to change the Super Rugby Pacific draw.

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark and Crusaders chief Colin Mansbridge both told Stuff Tuesday, those plans were “a work in progress,” but there was a common will for the new Super Rugby Pacific competition to continue without tearing up the draw, which was first released two weeks ago.

“There have been international competitions around the world, and successfully guided that process, for the last 12 months,” Clark said. “So we have to see if we can somehow come up with a solution with the government so we can handle it.

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“We know that results are health first, and that there is not much flexibility, and sport is only one segment of the challenges they face. [the government] face. But I think our task in reality is to come up with the solutions that we know there are because there have been good case models around the world where this has been a success.

“Everyone is determined to play Super Rugby Pacific and maintain the integrity of the competition.”

In an ever-changing environment, the three options currently open to Super Rugby Pacific organizers seem to be: to present a successful case to the New Zealand government that will allow teams to travel between Aotearoa and Australia and train between weekly matches: ‘front-loading’ start of Super Rugby Pacific with derby matches; or hold the entire competition in the same country, with Australia mentioned as an option in Australian reports last week.

Clark said moving all the derbies to the start of the year at the moment was the most likely option, but “was not ideal”, while Mansbridge was also keen to maintain the current Super Rugby Pacific draw, arguing for , moving professional sports teams between Aotearoa and Australia was less risky than domestic travel among the general population in the government’s new ‘traffic light’ system.

“We think there is reason to go back to [Sport] Minister that you have Breakers, Phoenix, Warriors and Super Rugby, ”said Mansbridge.

“Most of those teams have learned enough and there is enough support and infrastructure around them and international experience to be able to handle incoming and outgoing bubbles.

“If you think about it from a risk management perspective, we have allowed the traffic light system to emerge, which is likely to be the ability to handle risk almost better in a professional sports environment than allowing internal travel.”

Crusader CEO Colin Mansbridge believes Covid-19 is here for the long term and wants government policy to reflect that.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty-Images

Crusader CEO Colin Mansbridge believes Covid-19 is here for the long term and wants government policy to reflect that.

At present, fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents can travel from Australia from 17 January, but must isolate themselves for seven days. Foreign nationals can do the same from April 30, but these conditions make trans-Tasman sports competitions impossible.

NZ Rugby is working on the proposal to push ahead with Super Rugby Pacific in its current format, but it is not alone, with Sport NZ’s top manager Raelene Castle also in dialogue with Sports Minister Grant Robertson.

“The original word was no exception, but let’s see,” Mansbridge said. “This thing has changed quickly, you have to hope it can change quickly in a positive way. Let’s see.”

Breakfast

Professor Michael Baker says the new Omicron variant could affect the government’s plans to loosen border restrictions next year.

Significantly, Clark also said that a third edition of Super Rugby Aotearoa “was not on the agenda”, highlighting the desire on both sides of Tasman to get Super Rugby Pacific up and running, even the one that meant moving it all the way to Australia.

Asked if the Australia option represented the “last resort”, Clark said: “I do not know if it is the last resort, but it is certainly another option.

“It’s not something we’ve thought much about as a club, because it’s up to the competitors to make those decisions, but I know all options will be considered to ensure we can play Super Rugby Pacific in 2020.”

A decision on competition for 2022 is unlikely to be imminent, especially as any proposal the government must consider must be watertight.

Mansbridge said the current draw could be rejected without too much disruption – although there is a ‘super round’ scheduled for Melbourne on 25-26. February – but said the government had to start adapting to the new Covid-19 environment.

“Our preference would be to develop a system now that recognizes the existence of Covid in society for the next few decades, and what can we do now to address it?” he said.

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