The Blues have cancelled their pre-season clash against the Crusaders at Eden Park this Saturday in the wake of three new COVID-19 community cases in Auckland.
The match was scheduled to be the highlight of the ‘Blues Footy Fest’ at the stadium, but it has instead been canned, with the Blues citing the welfare of its fans as its top priority as Auckland residents undergo a three-day alert Level 3 lockdown.
The news comes six months after the highly-anticipated final match of last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa between the Blues and Crusaders was cancelled while Auckland was in a Level 3 lockdown.
“After careful consideration of all the options, the Blues have decided, for the safety of their fans, to cancel the planned Blues Footy Fest event at Eden Park this Saturday,” the franchise said in a statement.
“The Footy Fest was to feature the pre-season match between the Blues and Crusaders. The match came about after the final game of the 2020 Super season between the two sides at a sold-out Eden Park was also cancelled after Auckland moved to a Level 3 alert.”
Blues chief executive Andrew Hore said that in a bid to do everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the franchise is “unable to proceed with the game”.
“Our staff had worked so very hard on this Footy Fest match not just as a great game of rugby but a great occasion to celebrate our communities and very worthy charities,” he said.
With this match now off the schedule, Hore said the Blues are exploring other possibilities to ensure the Auckland side are prepared as best as possible when the competition kicks-off next week.
“Pre-season fixtures ensure an even playing field, adequate conditioning and preparation for the intensity of the competition. We are exploring all avenues in order to play a pre-season game due to its importance to the overall outcome of the competition and our ability to be a genuine contender.”
The Blues confirmed they would refund all its members and ticket-holders to Saturday’s event in the coming days, and would look to incorporate some of the day’s planned festivities for its first Super Rugby Aotearoa home match against the Highlanders on March 14.
Earlier on Monday, Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark told media there was no certainty that his franchise’s pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Alexandra on Friday would go ahead under the current alert Level 2 restrictions outside of Auckland.
While the match could still go ahead under those restrictions, no crowd would be allowed to attend, which would be a financial hit for the Dunedin side given they initially expected an attendance of between 6000 and 8000 people.
Further complexities, such as the Highlanders and Hurricanes travelling between the Dunedin and Wellington to the Central Otago town, have added to the uncertainty of the fixture going ahead.
Super Rugby Aotearoa gets underway next Friday when the Highlanders host the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on February 26, while the Hurricanes host the Blues at Sky Stadium in Wellington the following day.
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