Sports

Rugby on agenda as New Zealand continues to ease lockdown

Super Rugby in New Zealand is poised to resume when the country relaxes its Covid-19 lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.

Ardern is due to announce next Monday whether New Zealand will move to "Alert Level 2", which allows significantly more freedom than Kiwis have experienced since the lockdown began in late March.

While she stressed no decision had yet been made, Ardern acknowledged New Zealand's success in containing the virus had put it in a good position to cautiously relax the rules.

"Think of ourselves as halfway down Everest," she said.

"It's clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak and the descent is known to be even more dangerous."

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has recorded fewer than 1,500 cases and 21 deaths. The number of new cases has been in single digits since April 14, with just one new infection recorded yesterday.

Under New Zealand's four-tier alert system, social distancing protocols are enforced less stringently under level two, allowing contact sports including the national game of rugby union.

With international travel curtailing a return to Super Rugby proper, Kiwi bosses unveiled their plan for "Super Rugby Aotearoa" - a bespoke 10-week competition featuring their five franchises - and that it will start within four weeks, once clearance was confirmed.

Sanzaar, the governing body of Super Rugby, has given clearance for the competition, which will see the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders playing each other home and away, with two matches each weekend.

NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson confirmed all matches will be in closed stadiums.

"We're delighted for our fans that, in a best-case scenario, we will have top-quality rugby back on our screens next month," he said.

GREAT EXCITEMENT

"Professional sport will be able to resume domestically under level two," added Ardern.

"Super Rugby and the netball premiership have already confirmed their intention to resume a domestic competition, which I know will be cause for great excitement."

Ardern emphasised New Zealand's borders would remain closed and Kiwis would have to adapt to a "new normal" under level two.

"It's designed to get as many people back to work as possible and get the economy running, but safely," she said. - AFP

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