New Zealand Rugby gets green light to return

Rugby in New Zealand is one step closer to returning with the government giving New Zealand Rugby [NZR] and professional netball the green light to resume when the nation's restrictions ease to COVID-19 alert level two.

The New Zealand government made the announcement on Thursday with the national cabinet to make a final decision on Monday.

If New Zealand's restrictions do ease to level two, NZR will be able to launch Super Rugby Aotearoa, a five team, 10-week home and away competition.

"For our fans, our players and everyone involved in Investec Super Rugby, we are thrilled that the Sports Minister has given the green light for professional sport to resume at level two," NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson said via a statement.

"As soon as the country announces what date we move to alert level two, we will be able to confirm what date Investec Super Rugby will kick off."

New Zealand's five Super Rugby sides -- the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders - will take part in the competition developed by NZR in conjunction with SANZAAR, the Super Rugby clubs and the NZ Rugby Players' Association (NZRPA).

While level 2 restrictions will allow the general public to gather in groups of less than 100, all Super Rugby Aotearoa matches will be played behind closed doors, with two matches to be played every weekend.

"We're delighted for our fans that in a best-case scenario we will have top-quality rugby back on our screens next month. I know the players would prefer to be playing in front of our fans, but the health and safety of Kiwis must come first."

While the restrictions may be lifted as early as next week, it would be unlikely any play would occur for up to four weeks with players requiring adequate time to prepare.

Although rugby's return has been given the green light, Robinson has stressed the health and safety of players and everyone involved is paramount.

"While we want to see our game up and running as soon as possible, we won't make decisions that will put anyone at risk. We have always said we will take the government's lead on when it is safe to return."

NZR is set to make an announcement on the future of the All Blacks July series against Wales and Scotland in a fortnight.