According to Patrick McKendry in the New Zealand Herald, there is a willingness among NZ Rugby and players involved to quickly look at an alternative after Super Rugby, which also features teams from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, suspended for the next two weeks and is likely to be cancelled this year due to the travel restrictions put in place to contain the global coronavirus.
Sky TV, which has seen its share price drop rapidly over the past week or so, is also understood to be extremely keen to broadcast live rugby content and the prospect of the five Kiwi teams playing each other in full-blooded derbies, albeit possibly behind closed doors, is likely to also interest sport-starved rugby fans around the world.
With the Highlanders having returned on Tuesday from their cancelled game against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires – and facing a fortnight of self-isolation in accordance with the New Zealand government’s protocols brought over the weekend – any competition won’t start for two weeks at least.
But it is likely to be run over ten to twelve weeks and has been given the all-clear by Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos.
On same day New Zealand Rugby announced that all club rugby had been suspended until April 18 at the earliest, chief executive Mark Robinson, who has been in the job for four months, all but confirmed the imminent start of a Super Rugby replacement competition on Sky TV’s Breakdown programme.
He said his organisation’s priority was ensuring public safety, “but now our attention has shifted to how we make the best of this situation”.
“We’re quite excited about what we’re starting to develop with our Super clubs and Sky obviously heavily involved… this is a process which is quite complex and detailed,” Robinson said.
“We’d like to think by the end of the week we’d be in a position to share more detail. But it’s obvious it will be around a domestic-shaped competition and we’ve got around ten to twelve weeks to provide some rugby product for our fans.”
Robinson added some Kiwi teams had opted to take the week off but he was in constant dialogue with them. “We know people are going to be interested because there are a lot of restrictions around what people can do at the moment. We’re very mindful of what our fans want at the moment. This is a fresh opportunity and we’ve got to take it and make something exciting out of it.”
“If making money is the only yardstick, the only measurement these guys have got, then we might as well give up playing rugby as Pacific Islanders" @danleo82 talks frankly with @heagneyl ???? about the future of PI rugby.https://t.co/pk3CCiwLo9
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 8, 2020
Former All Blacks full-back-turned-Sky commentator Mils Muliaina said: “How good would that be? Obviously, I’m being optimistic and there is a two-week (break), but what would that look like (in terms of) a regional competition? The challenge is for other countries. We have five good teams here, but the challenge is for Australia and South Africa.”
Robinson said at this stage the visits of Wales and Scotland for three Tests against the All Blacks in July were still going ahead. “At the moment we’re working on a basis that the Welsh tests are being planned for,” he said.
“There have been no discussions with Wales or anyone else for that matter that they won’t be going ahead but we all know we’re in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 17, 2020
He said the players’ association were being fully involved in all discussions. Asked whether the players may be willing to take a pay cut, Robinson said: “It’s premature to go into the detail of what those discussions might look like.”
Robinson added of the importance to rugby to start again in New Zealand: “The key thing about rugby is that it can bring people together, it can inspire them, it can give them a release and provide fun and excitement.”
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