NZ-based contest may be dead in the water

Silence remains as to when and if a New Zealand-based Super Rugby competition will get under way but a mortal blow to its chances may have been fired on Saturday.

Rugby Australia announced late Friday night it had invited the Western Force back into the fold for a domestic competition, which is expected to start on April 3.

Rugby Australia and the franchises were working through the logistics of getting the competition under way.

But nothing concrete has come from New Zealand Rugby despite much talk of it happening.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said early last week work was going on around the proposed competition and more details would be released in the next few days.

The planned competition may have been dealt a mortal blow on Saturday when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said people should not undertake non-essential travel. Should areas be placed in lockdown teams will not be able to move out of the district.

The competition was set to involve a double round between the five NZ Super Rugby teams and last for 10-12 weeks.

The entire Super Rugby competition was suspended on March 14 and with countries sealing their borders there appears no hope that the competition with 15 teams will be back in its full glory in 2020.

Many have indicated the season should not be reignited and it was best to put the sport to bed for a couple of months — at least as rugby and sport in general goes on the back burner.

But that ignores the financial realities of the game. Sky TV pays the players’ and coaches’ wages through its broadcasting deal yet it has no product to screen. It needs to get product back on the television for its subscribers.

When or if the competition does come back on board, the Highlanders will be at a distinct disadvantage.

The team only got back to New Zealand from Argentina on March 17 and the 27 players and nine members of the management have been forced to go into self-isolation for two weeks. The players can train on their own and keep fit but not in public places. Team training and contact training are off the agenda.

So the Highlanders are, in effect, away from training together as a team for two weeks.

No-one has yet raised the issue about players getting paid but other sporting leagues which were mothballed before Super Rugby have started talking about cuts to player salaries.

The Highlanders have also put into self-isolation other players who returned from South Africa before the team went to Argentina. This follows Ardern’s instruction to teams who had been overseas before the March 16 deadline to also go into self-isolation.

The Chiefs and Crusaders, who had both played in Australia, went into self-isolation immediately after Ardern made her call.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated Ardern’s call to limit non-essential travel, although he said he was talking to the NRL and the AFL about their competitions.

Both these competitions were played behind closed doors over the weekend.

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