An adapted version of Super Rugby will recommence with an Australian-only competition comprising five or six teams, including the Western Force, being planned to start in early July.
RA has released a return-to-play strategy with the aim of starting a 12-week competition, with the Force and possibly Japan’s Sunwolves joining the four Australian Super Rugby teams.
The original five-nation competition was suspended in mid-March because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic .
“The draw we are looking at is a 12-week competition, 10 weeks of regular round matches and depending on the number of teams, work out how many games per week there,” RA general manager of professional rugby services Ben Whitaker said.
The Perth-based Force were considered surplus to requirements in 2017 when they were axed from the competition. They have since been playing in Global Rapid Rugby and the National Rugby Championship.
Global travel restrictions have put paid to the inclusion of the South African cohort of teams, along with Argentina’s Jaguares, while New Zealand Rugby has already announced its plans for its own local-only competition.
The four-nation Rugby Championship which is due to commence in August, wlll be pushed back, though Sanzaar officials are still hoping it will be staged.
“The international travel restrictions in South Africa and Argentina have been strengthened in the last couple of weeks and you will see that both of those nations at least won’t have any restrictions lifted until September,” Whitaker said.
Rugby Australia’s Return To Play committee has been meeting regularly to lay down plans for a new-look competition, while they have been absorbing knowledge from the NRL, which will resume later this month.
RA is giving Super Rugby clubs a Covid-19 education briefing this week, with players set to resume training on 18 May, giving them seven weeks ahead of a Friday 3 July start.
While the NRL will have less than three weeks of contact training, rugby believes its players – particularly tight forwards – need more lead-in time with the proposed dateline giving them a month.
The 2020 Super Rugby season was suspended due to the Covid-19 outbreak in mid-March, after just seven rounds of play had been completed.
New Zealand’s teams – the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders – will resume play on Saturday 13 June, following Monday’s announcement by the government that the country will move to alert level two on Thursday.
A set of protocols has been developed and will be endorsed by the government to allow play to restart at that level. The measures include daily symptom and temperature checks for players, team management and other officials involved in the competition, as well as stringent hygiene and cleaning, contact tracing practices, and asking anyone who feels unwell to stay away, self-isolate and get tested.
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said: “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. I know our players are excited and I’m sure rugby fans will be as well.”
More information: THE GUARDIAN.