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'World first': Crowds allowed back for Super Rugby Aotearoa matches as kick-off times pushed back

By Online Editors
(Photo by Rob Jefferies/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Aotearoa will be the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return en-masse in the Covid-19 era when the competition kicks off in Dunedin on Saturday.

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New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has confirmed there will be no limit on crowd numbers when the Highlanders play the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on June 13 and the Blues host the Hurricanes at Eden Park the following day.

Fans will be able to buy tickets to the opening two matches of Super Rugby Aotearoa from today.

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The welcome news for rugby fans comes after the Government confirmed New Zealand will move to Alert Level 1 at midnight tonight lifting all restrictions on mass gatherings including at stadiums.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the Government announcement was fantastic news for rugby.

“It is a testament to all New Zealanders that we are in a position to lift restrictions on mass gatherings and it’s a massive boost for Super Rugby Aotearoa,” he said.

“We’re incredibly proud, and grateful, to be the first professional sports competition in the world to be in a position to have our teams play in front of their fans again. It’s going to be a very special and unique competition and it’s fitting that New Zealanders now have a chance to be part of it.”

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NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said the move to Level 1 and the return of crowds meant kick off times would now change for the competition – now 7.05pm for Saturday games and 3.35pm for Sunday games.

“With the return of community sport, we wanted to give our many fans involved in Saturday sport time to finish up their games, get ready to head out, and then across town to our venues. We’re excited to be able to provide some daytime Sunday rugby in 2020.

“With the change to Level 1 our teams can now prepare normally for matches, rather than asking them to fly in and out on match day.”

NZR and all five Super Rugby clubs would be encouraging fans to use the QR codes displayed at match venues to enable effective contact tracing, Lendrum said.

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Highlanders Chief Executive Roger Clark said the club was “buzzing” at the opportunity to host the first professional rugby crowd since the Covid-19 global pandemic shut down the sporting world.

“The world will be watching, and we will be ready to put on a show. Our players, coaches and staff have been working overtime to get Super Rugby Aotearoa ready and to now be able to share the competition with our members and our fans will be a very special occasion.”

Blues chief executive Andrew Hore said the idea of family, friends and fans in the Eden Park stands on a Sunday afternoon watching rugby had never felt better.

“This is a great boost for the franchise and the region as a whole. It’s been a tough time for everyone over the past few months, so to be able to provide some rugby, some entertainment at a world class level and a day out for sports fans and families will be magic.”

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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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