Trans-Tasman Super Rugby gets green light, 'super round' abandoned

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The confirmation of a quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand means Super Rugby Trans-Tasman can start as planned on May 14.

New Zealand Rugby's head of the professional game Chris Lendrum confirmed on Wednesday that the New Zealand government's decision to open the trans-Tasman bubble from April 19 had essentially green-lit the proposed competition.

There will be just one major change to the draw with the "super round" set to be scrapped. Lendrum stated the round to be staged at one single location over one weekend was deemed too hard to organise, instead the five fixtures will be played at venues to be negotiated between the teams concerned. Rugby Australia confirmed to ESPN they had begun looking at alternate fixturing.

"That's one thing we've run out of runway to do this year," Lendrum told reporters. "With the uncertainty building into it, it was just too hard to contemplate basing ourselves all in one city.

"It's certainly a concept we want to explore in the future when conditions around our competition are a little more settled."

The Round three "super round" was set to feature Brumbies vs. Blues; Hurricanes vs. Force; Rebels vs. Highlanders; Reds vs. Chiefs; Waratahs vs. Crusaders.

Lendrum confirmed there would be no requirement for players to be vaccinated to play.

A green-light for the cross-border competition has brought relief and excitement to New Zealand Rugby with many believing a third full round of Super Rugby Aotearoa too much for everyone involved.

"It was always Plan A. This is what we wanted," he said. "New Zealand teams haven't played Australian teams for 12 months, now. There are two really strong Australian teams lurking on the other side in the Reds and Brumbies, and we know our teams will be looking forward to testing ourselves against them. And there is plenty of potential in the other three teams.

"I know the players are excited, and the coaches will be excited by a different challenge, and the opportunity to make, not just one, but two finals during the course of a Super Rugby season. It's all new and very exciting for everyone."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday confirmed that the corridor would open on Apr. 19, giving SANZAAR, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia just over five weeks to ensure that the competition can begin as scheduled in the middle of May.

"The Director-General of Health considers the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine free travel is safe to commence," Ardern said.

Fears that last week's community transmission of COVID-19 in Queensland could push the bubble back, and put the crossover Super Rugby series in jeopardy, proved to be unfounded despite Ardern acknowledging Brisbane's snap three-day lockdown.

Quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders travelling to Australia had been in place since late last year, but for the competition to proceed in its original six-week format or without the need for a single hub, it had to be the same scenario for Australians travelling to New Zealand.

The risk remains that quarantine-free travel could be paused or even suspended if COVID cases re-emerged in a particular state in Australia, with that state removed from the "green zone" travel category if required.

Super Rugby trans-Tasman could still face disruption as a result given Australia's five franchises are spread across four states and the Australian Capital Territory, although Super Rugby AU has already had to be flexible in its draw this season following the Victorian lockdown a week out from the competition's commencement.

Super Rugby trans-Tasman is set to open with the Highlanders hosting the Reds in Dunedin on May. 14.

Ardern's announcement is also good news for the Rugby Championship which is due to revert to its four-nation format with the return of South Africa later this year.

The tournament could be staged across both New Zealand and Australia as a result of the travel bubble, with the Springboks and Pumas also clear to travel between the two nations once they had first completed a fortnight's quarantine in either nation.