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The Highlanders match against the Jaguares in Argentina will not go ahead and all Super Rugby is on hold due to new travel restrictions and coronavirus fears.
The New Zealand Government has announced that travellers entering the country from midnight tonight (NZ time) must self-isolate for 14 days due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak.
The Otago-based franchise was to play the match at 12pm on Sunday (NZ time) in an empty stadium in Buenos Aires.
Had the game been played, the side would not have been able to return home before the travel restrictions are enacted, RNZ reports. The Highlanders have confirmed they won't be back in the country until Tuesday, and will have to self-quarantine on their return.
At present, there are no such travel restrictions affecting Australia, South Africa, Argentina or Japan.
In a statement on its Facebook page this morning the Highlanders said: "The decision comes following concerns in response to the uncertainty created by the Highlanders Players and Management having to enter self-isolation upon return to New Zealand following the New Zealand Government's recently announced travel restrictions.
"As per SANZAAR Tournament Rules, the decision to cancel a match is made by the SANZAAR Executive Committee following consultation with key stakeholders. Ultimately the decision is made to ensure the safety and well-being of all participants, but to also maintain the integrity of the sport.
"SANZAAR policy states that in the event of a match cancellation under such circumstances, the match will be officially declared a draw and both teams will receive 2 competition points."
SANZAAR said in a statement that, following the decree from the New Zealand Government, it would not be feasible to carry on with the competition, with five teams from the country participating.
"The safety and welfare of the public, our players and other stakeholders is paramount and as previously stated we were always going to abide by government and health authority instructions on the issue of COVID-19 containment," chief executive Andy Marinos said.
"We are extremely disappointed for the players, our fans, broadcasters and partners but given the complexity of our competition structure, and the multiple geographies that we cover, we have no other option but to align with such directives.
"We also believe it is time for all those players currently overseas to return home and to be with their families."
The directive from New Zealand left the competition, involving teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, hamstrung after only seven completed rounds following this weekend. The event is based on 18 rounds of group matches, followed by knockout rounds and the final.
"Our priority is, therefore, to ensure our players are within their homes territories from the end of this weekend," Marinos said.
"SANZAAR will also remain engaged with its stakeholders and will continue to explore avenues to see if we can keep the rugby product alive within our core markets, with the possibility to be in a position to resume the tournament if at all possible in future weeks."
The statement further said that the organisers hoped to devise a plan for the remaining fixtures that would be communicated in the coming days.
- Reuters, RNZ and ODT Online