New Zealand domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa to kick off in June after relaxed curbs

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WELLINGTON – New ’s Rugby teams will launch a competition next month after the government eased strict coronavirus lockdown restrictions, officials said on Monday (May 10).

Named Super Rugby – the Maori name for New Zealand – the competition will off on Saturday June 13, when the Otago Highlanders face Waikato Chiefs in Dunedin. The Auckland Blues will play the Wellington Hurricanes the next day.

The five-team competition (10-time champions Canterbury Crusaders are defending their title) will have two matches each week over 10 rounds, with games played without fans while coronavirus rules continue to prohibit mass gatherings.

Australia are weighing a similar five-team domestic competition, although no firm start date has been announced.

Public broadcaster ABC reported that the Perth-based Western Force – who were axed from Super Rugby at the end of the 2017 season – would return as the fifth Australian team.

The competitions are temporary replacements for the southern hemisphere’s 15-team Super Rugby championship which also features clubs from South Africa, Argentina and Japan.

Governing body Sanzaar suspended Super Rugby in mid-March as the pandemic closed international borders.

“The thought of five world-class Kiwi teams battling it out in 20 matches over 10 weeks should put a smile back on the faces of many people,” New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson said.

“I know our players are excited and I’m sure rugby fans will be as well.”

The competition was made possible after New Zealand on Monday announced that it was phasing out a seven-week lockdown that has helped contain Covid-19.

NZR medical manager Karen Rasmussen said the game’s administrators had agreed with the government to enforce strict health protocols.

These include daily symptom and temperature checks for everyone involved, charter flights to matches, as well as measures to help contract tracing if there is an outbreak.

The first match of each round will kick off at 5.05 pm (1.05pm Singapore time) on Saturday and the second at 3.05 pm on Sunday.

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