Super Rugby Aotearoa on verge of Level 2 return date

Super Rugby Aotearoa on verge of Level 2 return date
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 21: General view of Rugby Park, training ground of the Crusaders. Sporting codes across New Zealand including rugby have cancelled competition in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

On the verge of returning to action, the Super Rugby Aotearoa intra-conference planned competition is awaiting the Level 2 go-ahead next week. Awaiting the chance to open the gates, that have stood closed for over seven weeks and counting.

In fact, all of New Zealand is waiting with bated breath to hear the date when organized sport can return. Level 2 will continue a graduated lowering of controls, from when the nation was placed in Lockdown on March 26.

As the International borders are still closed, a domestic franchise competition is planned, with Super Rugby Aotearoa the most appropriate title. Proposed to be one of the first professional sports leagues within the borders, all it needs to proceed is for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and health officials, to agree to reduce controls of how organizations and franchises to operate safely.

Safety, player welfare and protecting the integrity of the national Coronavirus strategy will be at the heart of how individuals and teams can tackle the lead-in time, before any possible matches could take place.

Super Rugby Aotearoa on verge of Level 2 return date

“For our fans, our players and everyone involved in Investec Super Rugby, we are thrilled that the Sports Minister has given the green light for professional sport to resume at level two,” said NZR chief executive Mark Robinson.

“As soon as the country announces what date we move to alert level two, we will be able to confirm what date Super Rugby Aotearoa will kick off.”

If that is Wednesday/Thursday of this week, fans will need to bide their time though. Unlike a Formula 1 racecar, it needs more than fresh fuel to ‘fire up’. The juice required is in terms of skills base work, set move drills, yet all these will take time to reformulate. And the NZ Rugby Player’s Association is at the forefront of establishing protocols and a safe timeline to set the start date for rugby.

A working group made up of players, Super Rugby franchises, Provincial Unions, the NZRPA and NZ Rugby had considered all the possible competition options and timings that are [as yet] dependent on when alert levels drop, and rugby can resume.

Rugby should not put the cart ahead of the Horse

SANZAAR head Andy Marinos said Super Rugby fans in New Zealand and across the globe would be excited that they could, in the near future, be able to restart rugby.

“We have known for some time that once the green light is given to recommence playing [in any of our territories] that a revised Super Rugby competition format would have to be implemented. This will mean a strong domestic focus in each territory given the travel, border, and Government restrictions that we will have to adhere to.”

So even with headlines and newsprint media giving rugby the green light, qualifying the operating priorities are critical. Just as businesses affected have had to create processes on staff welfare. Physical distancing measures will still be in place when each franchise reassemble, so how can rugby players begin to train, is the first question?

That will be more like a ‘safe welcome back’ rather than a preseason. All Blacks strength and conditioning coach Nick Gill likens it to “learning to be a rugby player after a month off”.

Under Level 2, contact training will not be wholly possible. Expect small clusters of players to be grouped together yet the full-on rugby scrum and maul training may be off-limits until NZRPA and officials are satisfied it is safe. There is no use putting the cart ahead of the horse. Player fitness; including standing down anyone who is feeling sick, is there to protect the future competition.

Although, there is still much to get excited about.

Get excited rugby fans, match day can’t come soon enough

Effervescent in his attitude to the game, both fans and the men and women involved in the sport are exciting by the opportunities. It will take all of the skill of Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson (above) to gel his group together in the few weeks available before the official competition start.

So while the goal is to have sides playing each other in a home-and-away schedule over 10 weeks, that is not likely to start before June 5. That is after a lead-up timeline of refreshing player’s habits, physical assessment, and programming. Going from nothing to full-on Super Rugby Aotearoa match fitness will surely take time.

Fans will need to be patient. Not get ahead of themselves – just as the players must put in the work before any games can proceed. The fans lapped up news that Sam Cane is the nominated All Blacks captain, yet the real test in the near future is domestic rugby. Not Mitre 10 Cup as some wished for. That will come post the Super competition.

And Super Rugby Aotearoa is going to be one of the very first rugby union leagues to restart. Expect northern hemisphere fans to show as much interest, as their continent still battles the pandemic and limitations on their sporting codes.

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Look for more updates on the scheduled start to rugby in New Zealand (tbc).

 

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