Professional rugby union teams in New Zealand and Australia have ceased training as efforts to establish alternative domestic competitions after the suspension of Super Rugby failed in the face of government moves to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Rugby Australia hoped on Friday next week to launch a competition involving its four Super Rugby teams and the Perth-based Western Force, but now says that competition would not begin until at least May 1.
New Zealand also sought to create a competition among its five Super Rugby franchises, but yesterday said that would not be possible as the government moved toward a more comprehensive national lockdown.
All rugby in New Zealand has now been stopped “for the foreseeable future,” and teams have been told to stop group training.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said his organization’s priority is the health of players and fans.
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said the sport’s stakeholders are united behind the decision to suspend all rugby union at this stage.
“Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby teams have made the decision today to suspend the start of the revised competition on the latest guidance from the various government and health authorities, and our chief medical officer,” Castle said in a statement. “Our priority is the health and welfare of our athletes, and our wider rugby community, as we continue to adapt to an unprecedented and constantly evolving situation for our game and society.”
All Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby teams are to cease training for at least two weeks, though individual players are able to continue personal fitness regimes.
Phil Thompson, chief executive of the Australian conference-leading Brumbies, said that the players should continue to work out “as best they can.”
“A bit of old-school stuff. There’s a hill, run up it, type of thing,” Thompson said.
Coaches are to remain in contact with players by videoconference.
The suspension of play will put heavy financial pressure on the teams and broadcasters. Players have not yet been asked to take pay cuts, but that might come.
In New Zealand, support staff might be eligible for government wage support.
There is so far no indication when the teams could regather, whether any more matches would be played this season or whether the summer Test matches would go ahead.
In related news, Japan’s Top League yesterday said that it has canceled its remaining 42 matches to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, and safeguard the health of players and spectators.
The Top League said it was taking the step because many players would be returning to their home nations after New Zealand, Australia and other nations urged the return of their expatriated citizens.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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