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The New Zealand Herald can reveal talks are positive between New Zealand Rugby, the Players’ Association and the six teams to establish a temporary base in Queenstown that would, in theory at least, give Super Rugby the best chance of minimising Covid disruption.
As it stands, the Government’s strict close Covid contact stipulations could wreak havoc on all New Zealand-based sporting competitions. Should one player within a team test positive, every member of that side is deemed a close contact. Each player, coach and support staff member would then be required to isolate for 10 days, as well as returning multiple negative tests, before that team could resume playing.
NZ Rugby’s head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum confirmed this problematic scenario.
‘‘Clearly, that’s a major issue for us and any other sport,’’ Lendrum said.
‘‘We’ve got a range of options on the table to see how we can best mitigate that risk. We’d do everything we could to reschedule fixtures but the reality is that may not be possible. It depends on the magnitude of the interruption.’’
Under the Red light Covid settings gatherings are restricted to 100 people which essentially translates to no crowds at venues.
NZ Rugby is considering two options. One is chartering flights for away games — to avoid exposing teams to airports and plane outbreaks — alongside protocols that instruct players to avoid supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and gatherings.
The preference instead is to base the six New Zealand-based teams in Queenstown where they are considered less likely to be exposed to possible close contacts in their households.
‘‘We’re talking about all six New Zealand-based clubs moving into one location,’’ Lendrum said.
‘‘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.’’
At this point, teams could be asked to transfer to Queenstown within the next fortnight, before the season starts on February 19, and possibly be based there for five to six weeks.
The Herald understands Queenstown is considered the best location to provide up to 300 personnel with accommodation, gyms, training and playing venues. Teams would be housed separately to mitigate a potential mass spread.
Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he knew of nothing official happening with the teams.
However, Queenstown would welcome the idea and he would be delighted if it happened, he said.
While moving teams to one location would be costly, it is considered a better alternative than having entire teams ruled out at short notice, a scenario that could affect the broadcast bottom line.
‘‘Anything we did would be on a temporary or fixed basis. We’re not talking about bringing everyone into a bubble for five months to complete the competition,’’ Lendrum said.
‘‘It would be designed to get us through the expected spike that the Covid modelling is showing at the moment.’’
Former Blues captain turned Players’ Association services lead James Parsons indicated all parties had come together with a calm and measured approach to finding the best possible solution.
‘‘We’re mindful of potential personal or family disruption moving teams can cause but we feel it is balanced out these days because there’s no border, so players can leave at any stage if their family needs them and they can rejoin the bubble through certain protocols.’’
Super Rugby Aupiki — the debut season for the women’s teams from the Blues, Hurricanes, Chiefs and a joint Crusaders-Highlanders side — faces similar problems ahead of its March 5 start date.
As women’s players are paid on a part-time basis, and many have jobs during the front end of their weeks, NZ Rugby may opt to push back the start of their four-week season.
- Liam Napier