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George Bridge makes a break against the Highlanders last year.
The New Zealand-based Super Rugby sides are aimed to make a dramatic shift to a Queenstown to keep the upcoming season alive in the face of the Omicron variant of Covid -19, stuff understand.
When approached by stuff on Friday afternoon, Queenstown Lakes District Council mayor Jim Boult wouldn’t confirm the development, but said: “If it was the case I would be delighted and the teams would be welcome.”
It is unclear at this stage if all the games will be played in Queenstown, or the teams will fly in and out to their home grounds. Under the current Red settings for Covid-19, crowds would be limited no matter where the games are played.
New Zealand Rugby has been approached for comment.
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Queenstown has the accommodation capacity and facilities to host the teams, and was in the running to welcome Rugby Championship teams in 2020 before the tournament was controversially shifted to Australia at late notice.
The resort town has suffered several further setbacks since then, with the Highlanders-Rebels game in Super Rugby Trans Tasman canceled last year, while the Highlanders recently announced that the pre-season game against Moana Pasifika on February 11 had also fallen by the wayside.
As a result, a Queenstown bubble for Super Rugby Pacific would represent a significant boost for Queenstown and would bring a buzz to the entire region.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has modeling in place for up to 50,000 cases of Omicron a day.
Although New Zealand-based sides – the Blues, Crusaders, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Highlanders and Moana Pasifika – are almost resigned to Omicron getting into their camps at some point this year, NZ Rugby is determined for the season to go ahead with as few disruptions as possible.
NZ Rugby head of competitions Cameron Good said last week that he was “confident” the current Super Rugby Pacific draw would go ahead, despite the challenges posed by Omicron within Aotearoa and at the border.
“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.”
Good also indicated that in the event of Omicron infections within the teams, the priority would be to play the games at some stage, rather than just canceling them outright.
If that isn’t possible, games that cannot go ahead have typically been declared draws in Super Rugby, with two competition points going to each team.
If the teams are operating in bubble, it will reduce the likelihood of infections, and possibly make it easier to manage any spread.
New Zealand Cricket displayed similar thinking this week when they released a revised schedule for the Black Caps and White Ferns with a reduced the number of venues to limit both teams’ travel.
It is understood that the initial plan is to base the New Zealand-based Super Rugby teams in Queenstown for the first month of the competition, although that it likely to be under continual review.
Super Rugby was due to start with a game between Moana Pasifika and the Blues at Mt Smart Stadium on February 18.