In these troubled times of Covid-19, there was on Monday some good news for rugby fans with confirmation that New Zealand Rugby has confirmed plans to start a mini-Super Rugby tournament involving their five teams.
Kicking off in a little under five weeks on Saturday, 13 June, the Crusaders, Chiefs, Blues, Highlanders and Hurricanes will play each other home-and-away with two matches scheduled per weekend over 10 weeks (20 matches in total).
While it's no substitute for the 'real' thing, watching All Black-laden New Zealand Super Rugby derbies is certainly something worth circling on the calendar.
Matches will be played at 07:05 (SA time) on the Saturday and South African followers will have to set their alarms for the 05:05 kick-off on Sundays.
In the opening weekend (13 and 14 June), the Highlanders will play the Chiefs in Dunedin, while the Blues will host the Hurricanes in Auckland.
The Crusaders will have a bye in Week 1 and all matches will be played in closed stadiums.
The tournament has the blessing of governing body in the southern hemisphere, Sanzaar, meaning SA Rugby have given their thumbs-up to have their bitter rivals get back on the field, while at the same time bank some much-needed TV sponsorship money.
There will understandably be some envy on the part of other rugby unions around the world - not just the remaining Sanzaar members - who are all grappling with financial difficulties in these uncertain times and have players itching to get back to rucking and mauling.
This new tournament will have to adhere to several strict criteria, including daily symptom and temperature checks.
NZR chief executive Mark 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.
Summary of the Covid-19 protocols for professional rugby in New Zealand at lockdown Level 2:
- Daily symptom and temperature checks by team medical staff
- Asking anyone who feels unwell to stay away, self-isolate and get tested. Any illnesses within family bubbles must be reported, with immediate testing for anyone with Covid-19 symptoms
- Each team will be asked to have its own contact-tracing measures
- Extensive education of players and management by medical staff about everything from hygiene to food preparation and the use of equipment
- Stringent hygiene and cleaning practices of both team bases and match venues
- Strict controls and records of who can access team bases and match venues
- Encouraging players and management to minimise their contacts outside of the team environment and their family bubbles
- Teams will travel by charter flights to matches and the team buses will go direct from the airport to the match venue