Due to Covid-19 restrictions, two Super Rugby Pacific pre-season matches have been canceled less than a month after the start of the new season.
The Highlanders confirmed on Tuesday that New Zealand’s nationwide move to the Covid red light area has resulted in the cessation of the February 11 clash against Moana Pasifika in Queenstown.
Across Australia’s Tasman Sea, the Western Force was also forced to pull the pin during Sunday’s pre-season game with the Fijian Drua in Ballina, New South Wales, due to updated border restrictions for Western Australia.
The announcements come a day after the Crusaders announced that the pre-season showdown against the Hurricanes would be moved from Blenheim to Christchurch and played behind closed doors.
The Highlanders added that their other game for the season – the annual Farmlands Cup outing against the Crusaders, which will take place next Friday in Oamaru – will now also be played behind closed doors.
The Dunedin-based franchise’s decision to pull the plug on the Moana Pasifika match is a double blow to Queenstown as it comes after last year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman match between the Highlanders and Melbourne Rebels to Sydney was moved during a travel break between New Zealand and Victoria.
However, the Highlanders said in a statement released on Tuesday that the game against Moana Pasifika could continue on February 11 if a new location is found.
Such a move will not be forced by the Force, however, as Tony Lewis, the CEO of the Perth-based franchise, expressed disappointment that his side’s clash against the Drua is not going ahead as planned.
“We are very disappointed not to play Fijian Drua this weekend,” Lewis said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The recent announcement regarding the movement in and out of Western Australia is something we have no control over and we will not put our players and their families in a position of uncertainty about their return home.
“We will continue to work closely with the government to ensure we play seven home games this season and get more clarity on the situation.”
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark was also frustrated that his side’s matches against the Crusaders and Moana Pasifika were affected by new virus restrictions introduced as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant.
“We are devastated to have to shut the public out of Farmlands Cup and cancel our Queenstown match,” Clark said in a statement.
“Our pre-season games are always some of our favorite events where we can go to our regional areas and we hope to return to these regions in the future.
“We also wanted to say a huge thank you to the Valley Rugby Club and the Weston Community for supporting the event and creating a blueprint for a fantastic Farmlands Cup.
“We hope to be able to return to Weston and North Otago in the future to play for this deserving community.”
Clark also paid tribute to the Highlanders supporters and sponsors in Queenstown who missed the opportunity to see the squad in action for the second year running.
“This is a difficult pill to swallow for the Highlanders and we would like to thank Bayleys Queenstown for their continued support for the Highlanders and the local community,” he said.
“We would also like to thank all the local contractors and suppliers who have worked with us over the past two years and the local community, especially children, who end up being the victims.”
The first Super Rugby Pacific pre-season game of the year between the Waratahs and Brumbies is still scheduled to take place in Bowral next Saturday, with the season kicking off on February 18 when Moana Pasifika hosts the Blues in Auckland.
Super Rugby Pacific Preseason Match Schedule
Saturday January 29
waratahs vs. Brumbies, Bowral
Friday February 4
Moana Pasifika vs. Chiefs, Auckland
Crusaders vs. Highlanders, Oamaru
Saturday 5 February
waratahs vs. West Harbour, Hunter Wildfires, Western Sydney Two Blues, Eric Tweedale Stadium, Parramatta
Hurricanes vs. Blues, Takapuna
Queensland Reds vs. Western Force, Ballymore Stadium
thursday 10 february
Melbourne Rebels vs. Fijian Drua, Melbourne
Friday 11 February
blues vs. Chiefs, Te Puke
Crusaders vs Hurricanes, Christchurch
Saturday 12 February
Queensland Reds vs. Waratahs, Roma
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