NZ Rugby faces more Covid-19 uncertainty over Ireland MIQ spots, Super Rugby Pacific

The All Blacks are due to host Ireland in a three-test series in July, but group spaces in MIQ that would allow the Irish to arrive have not even been allocated yet.

Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The All Blacks are due to host Ireland in a three-test series in July, but group spaces in MIQ that would allow the Irish to arrive have not even been allocated yet.

Rugby faces another year of living with uncertainty due to Covid-19, with the Omicron variant thus far preventing MIQ spots being locked in for Ireland’s three-test series against the All Blacks in New Zealand in July, and New Zealand Rugby still waiting to see its full impact on Super Rugby Pacific.

In a pre-Covid world, the series against Ireland would deliver NZ Rugby a much-needed financial boost, but as with many other industries the governing body’s next move will be dictated by the government.

“Group spaces have not been allocated that far in advance,” an MBIE spokeswoman told stuff on Friday. “Decisions on future group allocations will depend on Cabinet’s considerations on the border reopening and reconnecting New Zealand.”

With MIQ facilities under significant pressure, the government’s strategy at the border has effectively been put on hold, with Omicron also been raging in Australia despite high vaccination rates.

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On Friday alone, the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland reported a combined death toll of 79 people due to Covid-19.

Super Rugby Pacific, which is due to start on February 18 with a clash between Moana Pasifika and the Blues at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, is also therefore likely to be affected in some shape or form by Omicron.

The Super Rugby Pacific draw has already been revised once, to front-load games between New Zealand-based teams, and it could face further disruption if the border settings prevent travel between Aotearoa and Australia when the cross-border fixture are scheduled to start in late April.

However, NZ Rugby head of competitions Cameron Good said on Friday that the focus remained on delivering that competition as scheduled.

Rieko Ioane of the Blues makes a break against the Reds in Brisbane last year.

Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Rieko Ioane of the Blues makes a break against the Reds in Brisbane last year.

“I guess the way we’re looking at it is that [the games against Australia’s sides] is three months away,” he said. “If we’ve learned anything over the last two years it’s that a lot changes in a short space of time.

“So, we’re just continuing to talk to government and waiting to see what happens around the borders.

“I think it’s just too far away to really speculate. Our intention remains to play that draw as we’ve announced it, and we’re confident that we can do that.”

Asked what would happen to the competition if NZ Rugby did not have certainty the games against the Australian-based sides could take place by the time the competition kicks off next month, Good said: “Our focus is Super Rugby Pacific.

“That’s the comp both us, Australia and Fiji want to play. You can make all the plans in the world, but you just need to react to circumstances as they unfold, so the entire focus is on Super Rugby Pacific at this stage.”

Good also delivered some encouraging news for the competition, confirming that games would still go ahead at New Zealand’s ‘Red’ setting in its Covid-19 traffic light system – albeit without full crowds.

“The traffic light system is a big change to the system we have dealt with for the last two years,” he said. “Under the old alert-level system, we had to stop training, and we had to stop playing.

“Under the traffic light system, we can still play rugby at green, orange and red. It’s a massive change for us, and gives us a lot of confidence the games will be played.”

NZ Rugby was also in the process of discussing what would happen should Covid-19 get into any of the squads – a scenario deemed likely by Blues coach Leon MacDonald.

“We’re currently working through it,” Good said. “I think the focus is to play the games, always, even if that means we need to look at postponements to ensure games can go ahead.”

NZ Rugby now must wait to see how Omicron unfolds, with one possibility being that the spread of the highly transmissible variant could even undercut the logic for strict border controls – an approach taken by Queensland, for example.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday that a self-isolation model was still on the cards for Kiwi returnees, but did not provide a date for when that will happen.

“We have to recognize MIQ is very full… we’ve got a system that has generally operated with two or three positive cases at the border which is now operating at between 40 and 50 positive cases a day,” Hipkins said.

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