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Highlanders match against Rebels could be relocated to Sydney amid COVID-19 uncertainty

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Teaukura Moetaua/Getty Images)

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Pack your bags for Queenstown or Sydney.


That’s the message to Highlanders players from the franchise’s chief executive Roger Clark, who remains confident his side will still play the Rebels this weekend despite Melbourne’s latest COVID-19 outbreak.

The quarantine-free travel bubble between Victoria and New Zealand was paused for 72 hours on Tuesday following an outbreak of the virus in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

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Travel restrictions are scheduled to be lifted at 7:59pm on Friday NZT, but six new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Wednesday, taking the total number of cases from the recent outbreak to 15.

The growing number of cases could see international travel in and out of the state paused beyond its Friday deadline or force Melbourne into a lockdown.

Such measures have the potential to wreak havoc with Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, particularly for the Highlanders and Melbourne Rebels, who are scheduled to play each other at the Queenstown Events Centre on Sunday.

However, Clark has moved to alleviate concerns the fixture won’t go ahead as planned as he revealed the Rebels have relocated from their Melbourne headquarters to Sydney, where they plan to fly to Queenstown from on Friday.


“The Rebels will be based in Sydney from later on today, and so they’ll be ready once the 72-hour timeframe falls off on Friday night,” Clark told media on Wednesday.

“They’ll be ready to fly to Queenstown on Saturday morning as originally planned, just from out of Sydney rather than Melbourne.”

That should allay fears that Queenstown will miss out on its first Super Rugby match since 2010, but it also hasn’t stopped Clark from devising a contingency plan to relocate the fixture to Sydney if further complications arise over the coming days.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Super Rugby match has been held in a neutral venue as the Sunwolves played the Brumbies and Crusaders in Wollongong and Brisbane, respectively, during the initial outbreak of the virus in Japan last March.


Another option would be to cancel the fixture entirely, something which occurred last year when the Blues and Crusaders had their final Super Rugby Aotearoa match canned amid heightened COVID-19 alert levels.

However, Clark is confident the match will go ahead, either in Queenstown or Sydney, as he said the “integrity” of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman depends on the event taking place.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to play the game for the integrity of the competition,” he said.

“At this stage, we’re doing everything we can because we’ve put a lot of work into this game and we’ve got a lot of support at every level in New Zealand to play this game and to launch Queenstown as a tourism mecca again for the ski season.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure this game happens in Queenstown at 2:35 on Sunday.”

Clark added that tickets have continued to sell even as doubts linger over whether the Rebels will make it to New Zealand.

“The support and the ticket sales have been absolutely unbelievable up until about 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon, and then they, as you can imagine, slowed down.

“We did sell about 25 tickets in the first hour this morning, so there’s some people that are still confident it’s going to happen.

“Obviously anyone that buys a ticket, if we don’t play the game, we will refund anyway, but, at the moment, ticket sales are great, the community has been absolutely fantastic.

“There’s a lot of goodwill across the country – and in Australia, for that matter – for this game to go ahead, so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that, form a health perspective, everything goes well.”

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