COVID wipes out entire R5 of New Zealand Super Rugby Pacific matches

COVID-19 has wiped out the entire set of Round 5 Super Rugby matches scheduled for New Zealand, with three of the six teams unable to safely filled 23-man squads.

The Moana Pasifika-Highlanders, Crusaders-Blues and Chiefs-Hurricanes will now have to be rescheduled as a result, creating further headaches for competition organisers after three earlier games also had to be postponed.

The Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders have all been battling outbreaks of the virus over the past few days, while the Hurricanes are slowly welcoming back a raft of players from isolation after their Round 4 match against Moana Pasifika was called off last week.

But there is some good news for Moana Pasifika, with the expansion franchise able to bring forward their make-up game against the Chiefs to Saturday night.

"Like many businesses around New Zealand we continue to deal with the disruptions of COVID on our people, and the health of the Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders players and staff was the key consideration in withdrawing those teams from this weekend's matches," Cameron Good, New Zealand Rugby's NZR Head of Tournaments and Competitions, said via a press release.

"With three teams remaining we had to look at what was the best outcome for the competition and a key consideration was to ensure Moana Pasifika got back on the field again after having three matches postponed through the opening month of the season, which is exciting for the club and their fans. This change also allows Moana Pasifika to catch up on their previously postponed Round 2 match against the Chiefs."

"This has been a tough call on the Hurricanes who had initially been scheduled to play the Chiefs and I would like to acknowledge the Hurricanes for their understanding and cooperation in putting the competition first."

"We are looking at the schedule and believe there are opportunities to play the postponed matches without major disruption to the draw and will announce details in due course," added Good.

While the rescheduling of a full round of fixtures is another big hurdle for NZR to overcome, there is much better news on the country's international border earlier.

Earlier Wednesday New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that vaccinated Australians would again be permitted to enter the country, and not have to isolate on arrival from 11.59pm [NZT] April 12, meaning the trans-Tasman portion of Super Rugby Pacific can go ahead as planned.

Under previous restrictions, which did not envisage a border reopening without managed isolation or home quarantine until July, it was thought New Zealand's five franchises and expansion outfit Moana Pasifika would have to remain in Australia after Super Round in late April to complete the season.

But Wednesday's news means that will not have to be the case, a welcomed result given New Zealand's Super Rugby sides are already facing crippling financial losses amid ongoing crowd restrictions.

Good said NZR was hoping to adopt the model that has allowed the ongoing Women's Cricket World Cup to host larger crowds, and that his organisation was working with the government in the hope of a better outcome for the Super Rugby Pacific clubs.

"It's certainly difficult for the clubs financially, that matchday revenue from having fans in the stadiums is critical to them and they just haven't been able to enjoy that when they've hosted games," Good said.

"We're continuing to talk with government, we're continuing to advocate to see if we can get fans back because they are hurting financially, the clubs...we've all seen the great scenes with Cricket World Cup with the crowds they've been able to have and obviously that's building.

"So there's a model there that we think we can apply into the stadiums and outdoor venues that we play in as well. So that's the conversation we're currently having with government."

The change in policy on the border is also great news for Ireland, who are due to tour New Zealand for three Tests in July.

Under the previous guidelines, the Irish were likely to have to isolate upon their arrival. But after Wednesday's update from the New Zealand Government, Andy Farrell's side will now not have to deal with any overarching impositions when they fly in later this year.

"We've been talking to Ireland for some time and I guess they've been really understanding of...isolation periods, it was needing to go through quite a prolonged visa process, or an approved event process.

"So now we're in a position where we're able to go to them and say 'you literally step off the plane, and all the visa complications and processed that we needed to work through have melted away.

"So it's business as usual, it's back to what teams have been enjoyed previously when they've come here and that's fantastic."