The 2020 Super Rugby season will be suspended indefinitely after Sunday afternoon.
Ongoing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, as well as the New Zealand government’s decision to instigate a mandatory self-isolation period for anyone entering the country after midnight on Sunday, forced governing body SANZAAR’s hand.
The scheduled match between the Brumbies and Waratahs on Sunday afternoon in Canberra will still go ahead. However, the match between the Jaguares and Highlanders in Buenos Aires, which was originally to be played behind closed doors, has been cancelled.
“The safety and welfare of the public, our players and other stakeholders is paramount and as previously stated we were always going to abide by government and health authority instructions on the issue of COVID-19 containment,” SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement.
“We are extremely disappointed for the players, our fans, broadcasters and partners but given the complexity of our competition structure, and the multiple geographies that we cover, we have no other option but to align with such directives.”
It’s the first major sporting competition in Australia to be outright suspended, with rival codes the AFL, NRL and A-League all announcing that scheduled matches will be continuing. However, the former two will see matches after this weekend played without crowds, amid fears it would contribute to spreading the diseease.
The New Zealand initiative, announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday, meant any Super Rugby team arriving in the country from Monday, March 16 onward, would be forced to self-isolate for two weeks. This ended the possibility that any teams travelling from South Africa, Australia or Japan would be able to play their scheduled matches.
The Highlanders will become the first Super Rugby side to be required to isolate, after they announced they wouldn’t be leaving Buenos Aires until Tuesday – well after the country’s lockdown begins.
The news follows SANZAAR’s decision to reschedule or postpone several games involving the Sunwolves in recent weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic is dealt with in Japan.
Marinos has also left the possibility open for some form of rugby to be played while the major competition is on standby, despite the current situation.
“SANZAAR will also remain engaged with its stakeholders and will continue to explore avenues to see if we can keep the rugby product alive within our core markets, with the possibility to be in a position to resume the tournament if at all possible in future weeks,” he said.
Prior to SANZAAR’s announcement, Rugby Australia had announced that games from Round 8 onward would be played behind closed doors.