New Zealand resumes Super Rugby without fans on June 13

WELLINGTON (AP) — A domestic tournament involving New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams will begin on June 13 after the New Zealand government yesterday loosened restrictions on sporting competitions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tournament is called Super Rugby Aotearoa and involves the Auckland-based Blues, Hamilton-based Chiefs, Wellington-based Hurricanes, Christchurch-based Crusaders and Dunedin-based Highlanders. Players will be given four weeks to prepare.

Teams will play each other home and away over 10 weeks, with two matches per weekend in empty stadiums. While New Zealand moved yesterday to Alert Level 2, mostly ending a five-week national lockdown, restrictions remain on the size of public gatherings. Fans will not be able to return to stadiums until those guidelines are further relaxed.

The Highlanders will play the Chiefs in Dunedin on June 13 and the Blues will play the Hurricanes in Auckland on June 14 in the first round of matches.

“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 chief executive Mark Robinson said. “I know our players are excited and I’m sure rugby fans will be as well.”

New Zealand Rugby chief medical officer Karen Rasmussen said strict safety protocols, worked out in consultation with the government, will be applied.

Players and team officials will face daily symptom and temperature checks and there will be stringent hygiene and cleaning requirements.

File photo shows Hurricanes and Crusaders players during the Super Rugby semi-final in Christchurch, New Zealand. PHOTO: AP