Highlanders-Rebels match in limbo after Melbourne COVID outbreak

Melbourne Rebels are relying on the Victorian-New Zealand travel bubble reopening by Saturday or a travel exemption to play their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman match against the Highlanders in Queenstown on Sunday.

The Rebels were set to fly out of Melbourne on Friday morning ahead of their round-three clash but the New Zealand government announced the bubble would be paused for 72 hours from Tuesday 6pm AEST after a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.

Initially told of a later NZ deadline, the club started scrambling to get out of the state on Tuesday night, looking to relocate to Sydney before going on to Queenstown later in the week.

But the Rebels and SANZAAR officials were caught out by the early cut-off and couldn't find enough seats for all players and staff on a flight departing by 6pm.

Rebels boss Baden Stephenson said they remained hopeful the match would go ahead as planned, with both countries' prime ministers set to attend.

"We will now fly out on Saturday which is a day later than scheduled but we're still confident we will be able to play," Stephenson told AAP.

"If things worsen and the bubble isn't reinstated then we will look to get some kind of travel exemption ... so we will see how the week plays out."

The Rebels were in Wellington last weekend to take on the Hurricanes but opted to return to Melbourne.

They intended staying on in Queenstown after the Highlanders match ahead of the round-four clash with the Chiefs in Hamilton and wanted to limit the time players were away from home after four months on the road last year due to the pandemic.

Stephenson said it was a feeling of deja vu when they got news they needed to try and get out of Melbourne after being forced to flee to Albury last year with almost no notice.

He said logistically it was too difficult to manage another cross-border dash.