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'Devastated': Two Super Rugby pre-season matches axed due to Covid

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Covid-19 restrictions have forced the cancellation of two Super Rugby Pacific pre-season fixtures less than a month out from the beginning of the new season.

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The Highlanders confirmed on Tuesday that New Zealand’s nationwide move into its red light Covid setting has resulted in the axing of its February 11 clash against Moana Pasifika in Queenstown.

Across the Tasman Sea in Australia, the Western Force have also been forced to pull the pin on Sunday’s pre-season bout with the Fijian Drua in Ballina, New South Wales, due to updated border restrictions for Western Australia.

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The announcements come a day after the Crusaders announced its pre-season clash against the Hurricanes would be relocated from Blenheim to Christchurch and would be played behind closed doors.

The Highlanders added that its other pre-season match – the side’s annual Farmlands Cup outing against the Crusaders, which is scheduled to take place in Oamaru next Friday – will also now be played behind closed doors.

The Dunedin-based franchise’s decision to pull the plug on the Moana Pasifika match is a double blow for Queenstown as it comes after last year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman fixture between the Highlanders and Melbourne Rebels was moved to Sydney amid a travel pause between New Zealand and Victoria.

However, the Highlanders indicated in a statement released on Tuesday that the match against Moana Pasifika could still go ahead on February 11 if a new venue is found.

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No such relocation will be enforced by the Force, though, as the Perth-based franchise’s chief executive Tony Lewis expressed his disappointment that his side’s clash against the Drua won’t go ahead as planned.

“We are very disappointed to not be playing Fijian Drua this weekend,” Lewis said via a statement on Tuesday.

“The recent announcement regarding the movement in and out of Western Australia is something we have no control over and we will not be putting our players and their families in a position of uncertainty around returning home.

“We are continuing to work closely with the government to ensure we deliver seven home games this season and gain further clarity on the situation.”

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Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark was similarly frustrated that his side’s matches against the Crusaders and Moana Pasifika have been impacted by fresh virus restrictions, which have been implemented due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

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“We are devastated to have to shut out the public from Farmlands Cup and cancel our game in Queenstown,” Clark said in a statement.

“Our pre-season games are always some of our favourite events where we can get out to our regional areas and we hope to be able to return to these regions in the future.

“We also wanted to say a huge thank you to the Valley Rugby Club and the Weston Community for rallying behind the event and creating a blueprint for a fantastic Farmlands Cup.

“We hope to be able to return to Weston and North Otago in the future to play in front of this deserving community.”

Clark also paid tribute to Highlanders supporters and sponsors in Queenstown who have missed the chance to watch the side in action for the second year running.

“This is a difficult pill to swallow for the Highlanders and we would like to extend our gratitude to Bayleys Queenstown for their continued support of the Highlanders and the local community,” he said.

“We would also like to acknowledge all the local contractors and suppliers who have worked with us for the last two years and the local community, especially kids, who ultimately lose out at the end of the day.”

The first Super Rugby Pacific pre-season fixture of the year between the Waratahs and Brumbies is still scheduled to take place in Bowral this Saturday, with the season set to kick-off on February 18 when Moana Pasifika host the Blues in Auckland.

Super Rugby Pacific pre-season fixtures

Saturday, 29 January

Waratahs vs. Brumbies, Bowral

Friday, 4 Febraury

Moana Pasifika vs. Chiefs, Auckland

Crusaders vs. Highlanders, Oamaru

Saturday, 5 February

Waratahs vs. West Harbour, Hunter Wildfires, Western Sydney Two Blues, Eric Tweedale Stadium, Parramatta

Hurricanes vs. Blues, Takapuna

Queensland Reds vs. Western Force, Ballymore Stadium

Thursday, February 10

Melbourne Rebels vs. Fijian Drua, Melbourne

Friday, 11 February

Blues vs. Chiefs, Te Puke

Crusaders vs. Hurricanes, Christchurch

Saturday, 12 February

Queensland Reds vs. Waratahs, Roma

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