With Super Rugby now suspended for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, alternative solutions are being explored in a bid to fill the rugby void.
Strict travel restrictions implemented by the New Zealand and Australian governments means people travelling into Australasia will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, which eliminates the prospect of Super Rugby taking place for at least the next fortnight.
Realistically, though, given the rapidly developing nature of COVID-19, the competition is likely to be suspended for much longer than that.
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That has led SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos to concede that if Super Rugby hasn’t resumed by the end of April, then the tournament will have to be called off.
“If it [suspension] goes four, five weeks then it’s going to be almost impossible because we don’t have the schedule to do anything further,” he told Newshub.
In the absence of regular competition fixtures, there has been talk in both New Zealand and Australia of in-bound clashes against other franchises from the same conference.
New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association boss Rob Nichol has revealed to Stuff that New Zealand Rugby and SANZAAR have been working on Super Rugby alternative models “for weeks” prior to the competition’s suspension.
One of the options on the table was a ‘derby only’ format if and when Super Rugby continues, something of which Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar is eager to pursue in Australia.
“We just want to play footy,” McKellar said following his side’s 47-14 victory over the Waratahs on Sunday.
“We were supposed to be going to Auckland and that’s not happening and then we’ve got the Reds, Melbourne and we play the Tahs again.
“If we can get the conference games; it’s a conference system so play your conference games and then see where things are at and then hopefully we can have a genuine finals series and the best play the best.”
However, such a model is dependent on Super Rugby coming back to fruition by the end of April, which is no certainty if Marinos’ comments are anything to go by.
Practice matches may be held between conference rivals in the meantime, but if there is no competition to return to, these clashes would be merely exhibition fixtures.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing in terms of upholding fan engagement and keeping players match-fit and prepared to return to action.
But, if exhibition matches are what franchises must resort to, then why not resurrect the ultimate exhibition match – from a New Zealand perspective – in the form of the North Island vs South Island derby.
Despite its prominence in New Zealand rugby history after having been played 80 times over 123 years, the inter-island rivalry is one that has been severely neglected since it stopped being held annually after 1986.
Since then, the clash has only been played twice, with the last of those matches coming eight years ago in a fundraising effort for the financially embattled Otago Rugby Football Union.
To no avail, Kiwi rugby tragics have longed for this classic and formerly highly-anticipated fixture to return to the yearly rugby calendar.
The evolution of professionalism in rugby has resulted in a saturation of matches at all levels from early February to late November, leaving no room for a contest that was once considered a marquee event that evoked a sense of rivalry and tribalism on both sides of the Cook Strait that hasn’t been seen in New Zealand sport, let alone rugby, for decades.
However, as the spread of coronavirus ensures that there will be no meaningful Super Rugby matches over the coming weeks (and potentially months), there can’t be many better opportunities to reintegrate the North Island vs South Island clash into the Kiwi rugby landscape.
Even if the rivalry resumes as a one-off spectacle, the incorporation of the fixture with New Zealand’s star players all available for selection would be a treasured and much-welcomed return of a former gem of the national game.
Potential North vs South lineups
1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Born: Tonga; School(s): Mangere College)
2. Codie Taylor (Levin; Fielding High School/Horowhenua College)
3. Nepo Laulala (Samoa; Mount Albert Grammar School/Wesley College)
4. Scott Barrett (New Plymouth; Francis Douglas Memorial College)
5. Sam Whitelock (Palmerston North; Fielding High School)
6. Luke Jacobson (Cambridge; Cambridge High School)
7. Sam Cane (Rotorua; Tauranga Boys’ High School)
8. Ardie Savea (Wellington; Rongotai College)
9. Aaron Smith (Palmerston North; Fielding High School)
10. Beauden Barrett (New Plymouth; Francis Douglas Memorial College)
11. Rieko Ioane (Auckland; Auckland Grammar School)
12. Ngani Laumape (Palmerston North; Palmerston North Boys’ High School)
13. Jack Goodhue (Whangarei; Mount Albert Grammar School)
14. Sevu Reece (Fiji; Hamilton Boys’ High School)
15. Jordie Barrett (New Plymouth; Francis Douglas Memorial College)
16. Dane Coles (Paraparaumu; Wellington College)
17. Karl Tu’inukuafe (Auckland; Wesley College)
18. Angus Ta’avao (Auckland; Dilworth School)
19. Isaia Walker-Leawere (Gisborne; Gisborne Boys’ High School)
20. Dalton Papalii (Auckland; St Kentigern College)
21. TJ Perenara (Porirua; Mana College)
22. Aaron Cruden (Palmerston North; Palmerston North Boys’ High School)
23. George Bridge (Gisborne; Lindisfarne College)
1. Joe Moody (Christchurch; Christ’s College)
2. Ricky Jackson (Dunedin; Otago Boys’ High School)
3. Atu Moli (Gisborne; Marlborough Boys’ College)
4. Brodie Retallick (Rangiora; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
5. Patrick Tuipulotu (Christchurch; St Peter’s College)
6. Cullen Grace (Hawera; Timaru Boys’ High School)
7. Tom Christie (Gore; Shirley Boys’ High School)
8. Tom Sanders (Christchurch; Lincoln High School)
9. Mitchell Drummond (Nelson; Nelson College)
10. Richie Mo’unga (Christchurch; St Andrew’s College)
11. Leicester Fainga’anuku (Tonga; Nelson College)
12. David Havili (Nelson; Motueka High School/Nelson College)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (Christchurch; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
14. Solomon Alaimalo (Auckland; St Bede’s College)
15. Damian McKenzie (Invercargill; Christ’s College)
16. Brodie McAlister (Christchurch; Shirley Boys’ High School)
17. Daniel Lienert-Brown (Christchurch; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
18. Siate Tokolahi (Tonga; Sacred Heart College/St Bede’s College)
19. Quinten Strange (Takaka; Nelson College)
20. Reed Prinsep (Christchurch; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
21. Jay Renton (Invercargill; Southland Boys’ High School)
22. Mitch Hunt (Nelson; Nelson College)
23. Will Jordan (Christchurch; Christchurch Boys’ High School)
NB: Selections primarily based on place of birth and/or secondary school attendance.
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