Super Rugby suspended due to coronavirus, Jaguares-Highlanders cancelled

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Super Rugby will be suspended for the foreseeable future beyond this weekend due to coronavirus, while Sunday's Jaguares-Highlanders has been abandoned.

SANZAAR released a statement on Saturday night confirming the decision after the New Zealand government introduced new tighter travel regulations.

Sunday morning's (AEDT) Jaguares-Highlanders match has also been cancelled, becoming the first game to be abandoned because of coronavirus.

In a statement overnight. SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said it was a call that had to be made for the welfare of the teams.

“SANZAAR does not take this decision lightly, but after consulting widely with key stakeholders, the SANZAAR Executive Committee has taken the necessary step to cancel the scheduled fixture with the players and team management health and welfare paramount," he said.

"As stated previously while disappointed to be in this position our priority is to ensure the players currently overseas return home healthy and safely to be with their families."

It is expected that the suspension would be for a minimum of two weeks with the fate of the competition this season unclear.

“Following a SANZAAR Executive Committee (EXCO) teleconference in response to the announcement by the New Zealand Government that all returning travellers will have to self-isolate for 14 days, including Super Rugby players, SANZAAR believes it has no option but to suspend the 2020 Super Rugby tournament at the conclusion of this weekend’s matches for the foreseeable future,” the statement read.

The New Zealand isolation edict applies from midnight on Sunday and while three of their five teams played domestically in round seven and the Crusaders were arriving back in the country ahead of the deadline, the Highlanders - who will take on the Jaguares behind closed doors in Argentina on Sunday morning (AEDT) - will not arrive back in the country in time to avoid the quarantine period.

And members of teams entering the country would not clear isolation in time to play their scheduled matches. 

“Five New Zealand teams play in the 15-team Super Rugby tournament and SANZAAR completely understands the directive issued by the New Zealand Government given concerns globally over the COVID-19 virus and the primary aim to reduce exposure and spread of the virus," the SANZAAR statement read.

SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said: “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."

“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," he said.

"We also believe it is time for all those players currently overseas to return home and to be with their families. Our priority is, therefore, to ensure our players are within their homes territories from the end of this weekend.

"SANZAAR will also remain engaged with its stakeholders and will continue to explore avenues to see if we can keep the rugby product alive within our core markets, with the possibility to be in a position to resume the tournament if at all possible in future weeks. We have currently played seven rounds out of the 18 in the normal regular season”. 

The possibility of domestic matches continuing in the SANZAAR member countries was one Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said was worth considering.

"I think there's always opportunity in adversity and there's potential to innovate the competition," he said.

The New Zealand Government today issued a directive for all travellers entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days due to the threat of coronavirus.

The advice relates to New Zealand residents as well as foreigners, from midnight Sunday New Zealand time.

Already, Japanese team the Sunwolves have been forced to play outside Japan since mid-February, while Sunday's (AEDT) clash between the Jaguares and Highlanders will be played behind closed doors.

Games in Australia welcome crowds in round 7 this weekend but would have been played in empty stadiums from next week and competitions in Europe have been postponed and matches cancelled.

EARLIER

SANZAAR released a statement on Saturday afternoon reacting to the New Zealand Government advice.

"Following the recent New Zealand Government directive today, that all travellers returning to New Zealand will have to self-isolate on their arrival for 14 days - including New Zealand residents - SANZAAR is now reviewing the full impact on the Super Rugby tournament," the statement read.

"The tournament is seven rounds into its 18 round regular season.

"SANZAAR will not be making any official comment on the tournament and the future staging of the remaining matches at this point in time.

"SANZAAR will issue a statement on the full impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and its impact on Super Rugby 2020 once the Executive Committee has determined an appropriate course of action and all stakeholders have been informed."

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, whose team beat the already-stranded Sunwolves at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday afternoon, conceded the decision would have wider implications for the competition.

"There's going to be knock-on effects, what they are is not for me to speculate but there are going to be changes and the first thing we've got to do is what's right for our people and their health and safety," he said.

"As rugby players, we'll be professional as we possibly can and if they make changes to create and opportunity internally or externally still, we'll be open, listen and hopefully provide entertainment for our fans the best we can."

Sunwolves chief executive Yuji Watase was unwilling to speculate on whether his team had played its final Super Rugby match, waiting instead on official word from SANZAAR as to the competition's future this season.

"Everything is going to be settled by SANZAAR, so we'll just wait for it," he said.

"Although we had to relocate the last two games from Tokyo to Australia, we're still really lucky that we can still play rugby."