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Ongoing travel restrictions mean more tweaks expected for Super Rugby draw

By Sam Smith
Ian Prior. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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After already re-arranging the draw for the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season, more tweaks may have to be made in the coming weeks due to Covid regulations in Western Australia and New Zealand.

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When the draw was first released in November, the expectation was that there would be free travel between NZ and Australia and the 12 teams involved would regularly move between the two nations. The advent of the omicron variant, however, has seen a delay in the re-introduction of a travel bubble between the neighbours. At present, while it’s possible to fly from NZ to the majority of Australian states without having to quarantine or isolate, the opposite is not true.

As such, a revised draw was unveiled in December which will see derby games played over the opening nine rounds before the Trans-Tasman portion of the competition kicks off in late April.

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Former Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie is lighting up League One this season.
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Former Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie is lighting up League One this season.

While it’s still entirely possible that a travel corridor does exist between New Zealand and Australia at that stage of the tournament, there are currently no guarantees. The New Zealand Government has not yet confirmed when it expects to reopen free travel into the country from Australia.

If there is still no corridor in place by Round 10 of the competition, it’s possible that the Trans-Tasman games will all have to be played in Australia, as was the case for the latter part of the 2020 Tri-Nations and last year’s Rugby Championship.

New Zealand Rugby have confirmed that even if NZ moves to the most prohibitive level of Covid restrictions, matches will go ahead as scheduled – though without crowds. That lines up with Blues coach Leon MacDonald’s recent comments that he expects his side will have to dig deep into their depth in order to perform this year.

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“We’re positively negative at the moment, but I don’t know how long that’s going to last in the environment, and we’re ready for that,” MacDonald said. “We’ve got lots of plans in place, and, again, two years on, we’re still talking about the same hiccups and road bumps are going to be ahead of us.

“The depth of our squad is going to get tested. Individuals have got to take a lot of care to try and keep themselves healthy.”

Less impactful but more pressing, however, is the fact that Western Australia has also not confirmed when the state will open its borders to travellers from around the rest of Australia. Originally, inter-state travel was set to restart on February 5 but Premier Mark McGowan confirmed this week that would no longer be the case. While it may be possible to journey into the state from that date, all travellers will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Super Rugby Pacific is set to kick off on 18 February and if the current restrictions that exist in WA are still in place, as has been telegraphed, it likely won’t be possible for the Western Force to host their matches in their home territory, as was the case in 2020 when a number of their ‘home’ games were played in New South Wales and Queensland.

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