Rugby in New Zealand will restart next month following Monday's announcement that the country will move to Covid-19 alert Level 2 on Thursday.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) confirmed that the domestic form of Super Rugby involving the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders - known as Super Rugby Aotearoa - will start on Saturday, 13 June, allowing players four weeks to adequately prepare with contact training.
The news follows the New Zealand government's announcement last Thursday that professional rugby and netball could resume at alert level two.
The competition will see the five Super Rugby franchises playing each other home and away over 10 weeks, with two matches every weekend at 17:05 (07:05 SA time) on Saturdays and 15:05 (05:05 SA time) on Sundays.
All matches will be played in closed stadiums, the NZR added.
The schedule for the competition was also announced. In the opening weekend, the Highlanders will play the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday, 13 June, with the Blues playing the Hurricanes in Auckland the following day.
"The thought of five world-class Kiwi teams battling it out in 20 matches over 10 weeks should put a smile back on the faces of many people. I know our players are excited and I’m sure rugby fans will be as well," NZR CEO Mark Robinson told the All Blacks' official website.
Robinson said they always knew they had to take the government's lead on when it was safe for rugby to return, and now it was critical the sport did everything to mitigate the further spread of Covid-19.
"Medical and operational staff across NZR, the Players' Association and the clubs have been working together to ensure we have detailed plans in place to protect the health and safety of everyone involved."
NZR medical manager Karen Rasmussen said a set of protocols for playing professional rugby at level two had been developed.
The protocols include daily symptom and temperature checks for players, team management and other officials involved, as well as stringent hygiene and cleaning, contact tracing practices, and asking anyone who feels unwell to stay away, self-isolate and get tested.
"A major factor will be ensuring we control who enters the team bubbles and that we have necessary measures in place to mitigate against any risk to the health of all team members, as well as the health of their families and the wider community,” said Rasmussen.
"Team members will be asked to minimise their contacts outside of the team environment and their family bubbles."
The teams will also fly in and out on match days by charter flights, with the earlier kick off times allowing them time to return to their home base after the games.
Meanwhile, the NZR also confirmed a start time for this year's Mitre 10 Cup.
"With the support of the provincial unions, we have been able to schedule a full 14 team Mitre 10 Cup Premiership and Championship competition with kick off on 11 September," said Robinson.
An amended Mitre 10 Cup draw will be released in due course.- All Blacks.com