NZ teams only likely for Highlanders next year

Highlanders boss Roger Clark has already resigned himself to the side playing only New Zealand teams again next year.

Clark has confirmed the Highlanders will follow whatever the Government announces today about alert levels but is looking at hosting a crowd of 20,000 if people are allowed at Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow night for the scheduled match against the Hurricanes.

He said when the announcement was made on Tuesday night to go to Level 2, the franchise immediately stopped selling tickets.

By then, it had sold 15,000 tickets and was hoping to get up to 20,000 by Saturday night.

Clark said that was disappointing but at the end of the day the organisation had to do what was right.

The franchise had drawn good crowds, averaging nearly 20,000 for its previous three home games, which was a great effort.

The Highlanders had been in a strong financial position before going into lockdown in March.

"At the end of the day it has been a pretty challenging year for all businesses and our club is no different. We have made lots of savings and we’ve had plenty of support," he said.

"We are in a position we are going to be able to wash our face at the end of the year and hopefully be in a position to be able to challenge next year."

He said this was a great opportunity to reset Super Rugby as it has been known but, in the short term, it was going to be "very challenging".

"Any plans we have will be in the medium to long term but next year, the way things are looking, I can’t see us playing outside New Zealand."

His personal opinion was Super Rugby Aotearoa was pretty good.

"Maybe play another round, put a few byes in there and a finals series, a playoff in it. You would be stretching it out a little further than you have now. The actual competition has been compelling. The fans have voted with their feet."

"But just having a competition with five New Zealand teams is not going to stack up financially in the long term. But if that is all we can do because of Covid, you have to cut your cloth, then that is what we have to look at."

Clark said it could mean smaller squads and fewer off-field staff but then such was the intensity of the game more players might needed.

He said it was important for broadcasters and sponsors to play the game even with no spectators. Sponsors had been very supportive.

The Blues said earlier this week it may have gone insolvent if crowds not been allowed back in but that was not the case with the Highlanders.

If spectators are not allowed, full refunds will be given.

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