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Report: Kiwi Super Rugby teams set to relocate amid Covid threat

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Discussions are reportedly underway to relocate New Zealand’s five Super Rugby Pacific teams, as well as Moana Pasifika, to Queenstown in an attempt to stifle the threat posed by the country’s fresh Covid outbreak.

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According to various media reports, New Zealand Rugby [NZR], the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association [NZRPA] and all six teams are in positive talks about the concept of centralising the Kiwi-based franchises in the Central Otago resort town.

Such a move is being planned in the hope of minimising the chance of Covid outbreaks within any of the six squads, which would result in cancelled games as the Omicron variant of the virus begins to spread throughout New Zealand.

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Should any player contract the virus, the entire squad and management staff would be deemed close contacts and, under government protocols, would be forced to self-isolate for 10 days.

Multiple negative tests would then need to be returned before teams would be allowed to play again, making matches involving infected squads untenable, with fixtures unable to be rescheduled due to the rigid scheduling of Super Rugby Pacific.

While players may still contract Covid should the six New Zealand sides be based out of Queenstown, the logic behind centralising the teams is to reduce their exposure to close contacts in their households.

Queenstown stands as the preferred location for teams to be based due to the number of playing, training and accomodation facilities available to the franchises.

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Reports indicate that teams may be centralised in Queenstown as early as next week ahead of the first match of the season, which, as it stands, is scheduled to kick-off with a clash between the Blues and Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium on February 18.

Although the move would be costly, it is understood that it is a preferred option ahead of having teams ruled ineligible to play at short notice – as happened with Auckland’s three NPC teams last year – because of the impact it would have on broadcast revenue.

“We’re talking about all six New Zealand-based clubs moving into one location,” NZR’s head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum told the New Zealand Herald.

“If we were to do that we think it would give ourselves a better chance to play those games without interruption. Nothing is foolproof but that is one thing under discussion.

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“No one is looking at the options lightly but potentially drawing people into one location removes some of those challenges with compliance and mitigates the risk around close contacts.”

Lendrum added that the move, which would be for a temporary or fixed-term period of possibly up to six weeks, would be a tough ask for players, especially for All Blacks who only left MIQ late last year following a three-month trip abroad.

However, he said that initial signals indicate that players are receptive of the plan as they understand the need to forge ahead with the campaign.

“It’s an imperfect scenario. There’s no doubt we’d be asking a lot of our players but they’ve been great partners during Covid,” Lendrum said.

“They want to play the competition so they understand why this is under discussion and why it’s an option. The indications are they’re supportive.”

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