Could local derbies save the Super Rugby season?

Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle speaks to the media during a press conference at Jones Bay Wharf on March 17, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Travel restrictions mean cross-country fixtures are out, but matches within borders could be viable … if Covid-19 can be contained.

Super Rugby is exploring domestic derbies as a way of resuming competition after its coronavirus suspension, Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said Tuesday.

The southern hemisphere club championship, which features 15 teams from five countries, was halted last weekend after New Zealand said all inbound travellers must self-isolate for 14 days to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Australia quickly followed suit, leaving Super Rugby’s fate in the balance and clubs and national bodies facing the prospect of serious financial problems if the stoppage were to extend over a prolonged period.

“The impact of government decisions to contain the coronavirus has seen rugby in Australia impacted in ways that we could never have imagined,” Castle told reporters in Sydney.

“We support these decisions as the health and wellbeings of Australians must come first. However, any ongoing restrictions will put extreme pressure on Rugby Australia’s finances.”

Only seven rounds of Super Rugby have been played, leaving broadcasters, who have paid for 18, with no live games. Castle said discussions with governing body Sanzaar were under way on a number of alternative competition models.

It could see Australian teams the Reds, Waratahs, Rebels and Brumbies playing matches against each other and Japan’s Sunwolves, who are already in Australia.

New Zealand have five teams who could do the same, while South Africa have four and Argentina one, which would potentially mean the Jaguares having to base themselves in South Africa.

“The travel restrictions mean that cross-border competition doesn’t seem realistic so domestic obviously leads the conversation,” Castle said.

“That’s all the work we’re doing and we expect we’d be able to communicate on that in the coming days.”

The Sharks currently top the overall table, one point ahead of the Brumbies.

Jurie Roux, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) chief, noted that the federation is already looking at ways to potentially re-start the campaign, labelling it “background planning”.

Saru chief Jurie Roux. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

However, 25 April is the earliest potential date they’d consider to resume competitive action.

“This is a highly fluid situation and we are planning against certain unknowables, but we have not given up on either competition and are working with partners internationally to resume the competitions within the constraints of health, common sense and any statutory restrictions,” he said.

“For the moment the SA Rugby offices will remain open but, like everything else, we will continue to review the situation on a daily basis.”

Despite what could be crippling financial costs to rugby clubs worldwide from the global health crisis, Castle insisted the sport would survive.

“Yes, there’s going to be some bumps in the road, there’s no doubt about that, and we ultimately might have to make some difficult decisions along the way. But the sport’s not going anywhere,” she said.

Rival code rugby league plans to press ahead in Australia behind closed doors with the NRL season, which began last weekend.

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