'It's coming': Blues coach's stark Covid-19 warning for Super Rugby Pacific
Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has issued a blunt warning to his side, and Super Rugby Pacific as a whole, as the ever-present threat of Covid-19 continues to loom large.
The new, revamped version of Super Rugby is due to kick-off in just under a month’s time, but, for the third season running, the competition continues to feel the wrath of the global pandemic.
The league’s two new expansion sides, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua, have already been impacted by the virus, with the Drua set to be based out of Australia in their debut campaign, with only one fixture scheduled to be played in Fiji.
Uncertainty over international travel has also led to Moana Pasifika establishing their home base at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium, rather than Samoa or Tonga, until 2028.
Likewise, travel restrictions between New Zealand and Australia forced the Super Rugby Pacific draw to be revised late last year, effectively resulting in a continuation of Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU in the first half of the campaign.
The 12 sides will then cross borders to square off against their foreign counterparts in the final six rounds of the regular season, as they did for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, although how that unfolds is dependant on the border situation between New Zealand and Australia.
Considering Australia’s enormous surge in Covid cases due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant in recent weeks, it very much remains to be seen whether travel restrictions across the Tasman will be eased by the business end of the season.
The highly-transmissible nature of the Omicron variant also poses risks for teams competing in Super Rugby Pacific, as it has done for sides from other professional sporting competitions – such as the NRL and A-League – throughout Australia.
After having successfully navigated the past two Covid-impacted seasons, MacDonald is acutely aware of the potential damage the Omicron variant could cause the Blues, and Super Rugby Pacific in general, as he explained to media on Tuesday.
“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 as he conceded that players of his own will inevitably be struck down by the virus at some stage this year.
“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.
“We are [under strict protocols] because, once it gets into teams, it rips teams to pieces, really. We’re going to have a lot of guys at home this year, so we need to prepare for that.
“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.”
MacDonald isn’t the only Super Rugby Pacific coach to have spoken out about the difficulty of competing in the midst of the fresh Covid outbreak.
Brumbies boss Dan McKellar last week called for “common sense” over virus protocols before adding that the team that best deals with the disruption caused by Covid will have the biggest chance of succeeding in Super Rugby Pacific.
That team may well be the Blues, who are not only blessed with depth and talent throughout their squad, but also have contingency plans in place to deal with the imminent outbreak of Covid within the competition.
“I think that’s the reality of the country, isn’t it? It’s coming, and it’s going to get a lot of us,” MacDonald said.
“We’ve just got to be ready for it as best we can, and being healthy helps, and taking all the precautions we can, but we’re expecting it to get into our team at some point, and we’ve got to make sure we deal with it as best we can.”
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