Super Rugby is off.
Until when, nobody really knows for sure.
New Zealand’s current travel and isolation requirements mean we’re unlikely to see the competition return for at least the next four weeks which has a few major consequences.
First and foremost, the 2020 season will forever have a little asterisk by its name.
The competition was due to end on the 20th of June with Northern Hemisphere Test sides touring the Southern Hemisphere from the first weekend in July.
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As it currently stands, SANZAAR and the various players’ associations may be opposed to shifting those dates due to how it could impact player welfare.
There’s simply no way that Super Rugby can fit four missed rounds of action into just two weeks – which is the minimum number of rounds suspended, assuming that there are no further restrictions.
That means we’re likely to see an abridged competition, at the very least, which will impact teams very differently.
The Hurricanes, Blues, Reds and Highlanders have already completed their tours to South Africa and Argentina (although the Highlanders’ match against the Jaguares was called off, it has officially been deemed a draw).
The competition’s eight other teams still have significant travel obligations left to complete with the Chiefs, Rebels, Waratahs and Jaguares at least due to begin their odysseys in the next month.
One way or another, not all of these teams will have to complete their treks halfway around the world – and the clubs that are lucky enough to skip the travel will already be at a major advantage over their opposition.
Factor in that some teams will skip games against the Crusaders while others will miss out on playing the Sunwolves, and we’re very unlikely to see a robust table with appropriate rankings at the end of the round robin.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 14, 2020
That unavoidable, however – there’s simply no fair way for the 2020 season to be completed and we will simply have to live that.
That doesn’t mean the year has to be a write-off, however, and the local unions have an opportunity to use the coming weeks to both keep their teams fit and generate some revenue that will potentially be completely forgone if no rugby takes place.
One option in New Zealand would be to keep the Super Rugby squads intact and play a number of derby games.
The Highlanders, who will be required to self-isolate for two weeks once they arrive back from Buenos Aires, would have to sit out matches to begin with but could enter the fold down the track.
Whether these matches count towards Super Rugby is irrelevant – it still gives fans something to watch on television once a week, even if they can’t attend matches in person.
An alternative would see the franchises split into their provincial unions, with each squad member assigned a province.
The Chiefs ran a mini tournament earlier in the season between their four unions, Waikato, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki with the matches acting as trials for the Chiefs development side.
A lot of people queried this one. https://t.co/lnRcl759YW
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 14, 2020
Chiefs players who weren’t required on Super Rugby match days instead represented these provinces.
Similar tournaments could be run in Super Rugby’s absence but with all squad members participating.
Again, there are plenty of benefits to be had even if these matches are closed off to the public.
First of all, it would keep the players match fit ahead of Super Rugby’s eventual resumption. While few would argue with the players being given an extended break, that can only go on so long.
The other benefit, of course, is financial.
Like it or not, Super Rugby is a business – the competition’s broadcasters, who paid a premium for the product, will be haemorrhaging potential revenue for as long as games remain suspended.
While New Zealand Rugby certainly won’t want to put any of their athletes at risk and mustn’t act with haste, something does need to be done in the near future.
Then again, whether you look at rugby as a sport or a business, there are obviously greater priorities than the game and rugby will survive to fight another year, no matter what happens.
WATCH: Gregor Townsend has confirmed that his squad is coronavirus-free.
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