NEW YORK – Super Rugby organizers decided Saturday to suspend the competition indefinitely after the weekend’s games because New Zealand players returning home from matches overseas faced being forced into self-isolation for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
SANZAAR, the southern hemisphere rugby body that runs Super Rugby, said the tournament would be off for the “foreseeable future” with only seven of 18 rounds of the regular season completed.
The decision was prompted by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that people entering the country from trips overseas, including returning New Zealand citizens, would have to self-isolate for 14 days from midnight Sunday. Only travelers from a handful of Pacific Island nations were exempted.
That decision would make the cross-border Super Rugby competition untenable, with the tournament featuring teams from five nations, including five teams from New Zealand, and involving regular travel between countries. Teams from Australia, Japan, South Africa and Argentina also play in Super Rugby, which runs from January through to June. All five countries have confirmed coronavirus cases.
“The safety and welfare of the public, our players and other stakeholders is paramount and as previously stated we were always going to abide by government and health authority instructions on the issue of COVID-19 containment,” SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said.
“We are extremely disappointed for the players, our fans, broadcasters and partners but given the complexity of our competition structure, and the multiple geographies that we cover, we have no other option but to align with such directives. We also believe it is time for all those players currently overseas to return home and to be with their families.”
There were still three games in the round to be played when the suspension announcement came — in South Africa, Argentina and Australia.
The game between Argentina’s Jaguares and the New Zealand-based Highlanders in Buenos Aires was already set to be played with no fans because of the Buenos Aires mayor’s ban on mass gatherings. An earlier game on Saturday was moved out of Tokyo because of the virus outbreak.
Apart from the Jaguares and Highlanders matchup, fans were allowed to attend all other matches in the round. Australia had decided stadiums would be closed to fans from next week, but that move is now redundant.
The game moved out of Tokyo featured the defending-champion Crusaders, one of the New Zealand teams, against the Tokyo-based Sunwolves. It was relocated to Brisbane, Australia, where the Crusaders were reduced to 13 men in the last 15 minutes but won 49-14.
In the most significant on-field action, the Durban-based Sharks held their nerve to beat the Stormers 24-14 and reclaim their place at the top of the overall standings ahead of the Crusaders.
Replacement Paul de Wet’s try after a midfield burst by No. 8 Juarno Augustus had taken the Stormers from 13-7 down to 14-13 up.
Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch kicked the home team ahead again — with one penalty landed from well over 50 meters — and winger Makazole Mapimpi sealed it a minute from the end by racing clear and into the left corner.
The Sharks lead the Crusaders by a point. It’s unclear when the tournament will resume and their lead can be challenged. SANZAAR CEO Marinos would only commit to the situation being reviewed “in future weeks.”