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New Zealand rugby nearing a return

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Professional rugby and netball are close to returning to action in New Zealand after the government unveiled its rules for sport when the country next eases its coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced a range of new societal rules that will apply when the country moves from alert level three to level two, including changes to professional and community sport.

Cabinet will announce a date on Monday for the shift to alert level two, which could happen as soon as Wednesday.

The announcement was enormous for rugby and netball, the country’s two professional winter competitions which have suffered significant financial damage.

With international travel curtailing a return to Super Rugby proper, Kiwi bosses unveiled their plan for “Super Rugby Aotearoa”, a bespoke 10-week competition featuring their five franchises.

The competition could begin as early as mid-June, after a three-to-four week training period to have the players ready for contact.

Teams last played in mid-March, when Super Rugby was halted after seven rounds.

SANZAAR has given clearance for the competition, which will see the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders playing each other home and away, with two matches each weekend.

NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson confirmed all matches will be in closed stadiums.

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“We’re delighted for our fans that in a best-case scenario we will have top-quality rugby back on our screens next month,” he said.

“I know the players would prefer to be playing in front of our fans, but the health and safety of Kiwis must come first.”

Robinson said a decision on the viability of the All Blacks’ home Tests against Wales and Scotland will be made in the next fortnight.

SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said rugby fans globally would be excited that action could restart in about a month and indicated Australia was ready to create a similar local competition to that of its trans-Tasman neighbour when its national restrictions are eased.

“We have known for some time that once the green light is given to recommence playing (in any of our territories) that a revised Super Rugby competition format would have to be implemented,” he said.

“This will mean a strong domestic focus in each territory given the travel, border and government restrictions that we will have to adhere to.”

Netball New Zealand confirmed its domestic ANZ Championship will simply resume when the level two green light is given.

A resumption date will be provided then.

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Just one round was possible before the country entered lockdown in March.

© AAP