New Zealand Rugby is facing another significant blow as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide.
As the organisation scrambles to find alternative solutions to fill the void left by the suspended Super Rugby competition, rugby bosses in Europe have announced the indefinite suspension of the PRO14 as well as the cancellation of the tournament’s final in Cardiff on June 20.
The vast majority of players who make up the Welsh and Scottish squads ply their trade at club level in the PRO14, which consists of teams from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and South Africa.
“The suspension of the 2019/20 season of the Guinness PRO14 is now on an indefinite basis due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” competition organisers said in a statement.
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“Due to the evolving situation, unfortunately the board had to take the further decision to cancel the Guinness PRO14 Final at Cardiff City Stadium, set to take place on June 20.
“Refunds will be made automatically to all who have already purchased tickets.”
While the closure of New Zealand’s borders had already put the July fixtures in doubt, the suspension of the PRO14 leaves most Welsh and Scottish players with the prospect of months without rugby.
That much is indicative by the PRO14’s decision to call off its own final three months in advance, signalling European rugby bosses are preparing for a prolonged period of no professional rugby.
Even if the coronavirus outbreak has eased by July 4, which is when the All Blacks are supposed to kick-off their 2020 campaign against Wales at Eden Park, it’s difficult to envisage Welsh and Scottish players being in prime physical condition for such a tour.
The All Blacks themselves might not even be ready for the arrival of Wales and Scotland given that Super Rugby isn’t likely to be played any time soon.
NZR have revealed plans to launch a makeshift competition featuring all five New Zealand franchises to be played over a timeframe of 10-12 weeks, but that is proving to be difficult to bring to fruition.
The Highlanders, Crusaders and Chiefs are all in self-isolation after returning from New Zealand from overseas, and it won’t be for another week-and-a-half before the Highlanders are allowed to leave their homes.
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark told Stuff earlier this week that while they wanted to resume training once their self-isolation period was over, they won’t be able to.
“We’re trying to start training again next week but we were absolutely advised that we couldn’t,” he said before also adding that it would become clear by Saturday if any players were in danger of showing any signs of symptoms.
The suspension of Super Rugby and the potential loss of All Blacks fixtures in July has the potential to seriously rock NZR’s finances, but the governing body’s chief executive Mark Robinson remained upbeat about the situation.
“We own the responsibility for the future financial viability of the game, we know we’ve got some incredibly challenging times and some significant head-winds in front of us but we’re confident we can work through it,” he said on Wednesday.
NZR are likely to not be the only national union impacted by the PRO14’s decision to suspend its competition and cancel its tournament’s final.
Prior to arriving in New Zealand, Scotland are scheduled to face the Springboks on a two-match tour in Cape Town and Durban, while Wales are set to play Japan in Shizuoka a week before taking on the All Blacks.
Elsewhere, Ireland are due to face the Wallabies in a two-match series in Brisbane and Sydney, and Italy have a tour of the Americas in place where they are meant to play the USA, Canada and Argentina.
Notwithstanding the respective travel restrictions each of those countries have in place to combat COVID-19, the chances of those teams whose players are heavily involved in the PRO14 in touring the Southern Hemisphere now appear slim at best.
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