Wellington is in the box seat to host the North versus South match after the Government denied exemptions for Auckland-based players and staff to travel next week.
With another $1 million in gate takings at stake, New Zealand Rugby is on tenterhooks as it awaits the Government’s next Covid-19 update on Monday.
Having made the decision to postpone the North against South fixture by one week – from August 29 to September 5 – Monday’s announcement will now determine whether the match is staged in Auckland as originally planned or moved to the capital.
While a range of scenarios remain in play, NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said the match would be cancelled if it could not be played on September 5.
“There is an alternative here where we cannot play the game but we remain really hopeful that can happen. At this stage we don’t think we can push past September 5 or that weekend because we’ve got Mitre 10 Cup due to start the following weekend.
“There is a scenario where the game could be played without crowds at Level 2, but it is going to depend on the position of the entire country in all likelihood.
“So, no, we don’t have a decision on a venue. We will see what Monday brings, when the Government revises or extends the current levels.”
With Auckland seemingly unlikely to jump from alert Level 3 to 1 next week, Wellington appears a more realistic option of hosting the match with crowds permitted to attend.
New Zealand Rugby and the Blues lost $1 million in gate takings from cancelling the final Super Rugby Aotearoa match against the Crusaders at a sold out Eden Park, and Lendrum confirmed a comparable pot was on the line for the North and South fixture.
“It’s around a similar sort of figure. We’re talking about a sold out Eden Park, at relatively accessible ticketing prices. Wellington is a smaller venue so there would be a smaller yield from ticketing but by far the greater cost is to not have the game at all.”
NZR failed in its attempt to gain exemptions for the 14 Auckland-based players and five support staff to travel to Wellington and assemble with the squads on Monday – Health Minister Chris Hipkins initially saying he had not received any exemption requests – and there is no expectation that situation will change.
“We submitted the exemptions early in the week it goes into the same process that any other individual or business goes into. I’m not sure whether he had seen it at the time he spoke or not.
“Our understanding is the threshold for exemption is really high. The exemptions are only really for life-threatening circumstances.
“We haven’t met the threshold which is frustrating for everyone involved in the game and the fans, but we totally accept the decision.
“We are not frustrated at the decision. We are just frustrated we can’t play the game – yet.”
Lendrum confirmed if NZ Rugby is unable to get players and management released from Auckland that will force the game to be cancelled.
“The thinking this week is that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. It wouldn’t do justice to the fixture, it wouldn’t be the preference of the people participating or the fans.
“We have taken the decision that is preferable to delay, rather than consider that option.”
Postponing the North against South match is expected to have a knock-on effect for the availability of All Blacks and leading Super Rugby players involved in the fixture. Injuries and fatigue are likely, and some players face the prospect of a six-day turnaround for the opening Mitre 10 Cup match between North Harbour and Canterbury on September 11.
“We’ll have to put a player-by-player lens across this but as a general rule we expect all our players to be available for round one of Mitre 10. Every week we lose to Covid we condense a bit harder up against the end of the year. All of these things we’re taking day by day, week by week.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty Lendrum remains positive about New Zealand hosting the Rugby Championship from November 7 to December 12.
The All Blacks’ first match of the year, against a Moana Pacific side at Mt Smart Stadium on October 3, is expected to be confirmed next week.
“Every day, every week, things fluctuate. There’s always been risk around Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship being able to be played. Right now we remain really confident – we don’t have to make those decisions today fortunately we’ve got time so we’ll keep a watching brief.”
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