News that the Omicron variant is ready to ‘scupper’ the Super Rugby Pacific new season kickoff has turned what was supposed to be a fresh start, into a sad rerun of European experiences.
Crowds will be removed when the competition begins on February 28. Id only for secluded numbers at a maximum of 100; with social distancing and facilities that limit the exposure of the crowds originally planned for. It scuppers the familiar start to rugby in New Zealand and is the ‘worst case scenario’ for fans and organizers alike.
As yet not an infection of any players though, the specter of the pandemics newest variant running a swathe through the New Zealand community, the harsher controls are impacting professional rugby union. By nature, controls are looking to protect stakeholders from the virus’s impact yet it is a huge frustration. So franchises that had been eagerly promoting the upcoming calendar have now had those immediate plans undermined. Sales of season passes and the staging of preseason games are now being actively canceled/postponed and/or, played behind closed doors.
Similar to how European rugby had to adapt through the Delta variant and their heaviest Omicron outbreaks in December, the Southern Hemisphere games were just at the point of ramping up fans’ excitement level – only for a blazing Red Light to stomp down and remove the games’ support base. While not yet completely abolishing participation, as it did to the Auckland NPC sides in August/September of 2021, yet now all that anticipation is ‘up in the air’.
Of note, this will also affect the new women’s Super Rugby Aupiki championship. The four sides are like their male counterparts; still able to train (in a large bubble) but with less or no fans to cheer on the girls, they too are disappointed but still focused to provide quality rugby entertainment for the lucky few in attendance and the tens of thousands of fans in the community.
Omicron set to scupper Super Rugby Pacific new season
Daily increases in positive Omicron cases saw the New Zealand (NZ) government change their national settings from ‘amber’ to a more strict ‘red traffic light setting’. It directly affects the Super Rugby Pacific new season kick-off planned for February 18. As a consequence, their ability to hold full stadiums over the opening segment of the competition has seen a flood of changes to preseason fixtures and new plans created for Round One of the Super Rugby Pacific new season start in New Zealand.
We'll be back Blenheim ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Z4FnV3jyqj
— Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) January 23, 2022
This is a year that already saw altered the domestic competition draw changed in December. An already redesigned one in fact that only segregates New Zealand conference teams after the opening rounds were unable to host any trans-Tasman fixtures. That is because incoming International visitors required quarantine for 10 days, an impossible task for Australian teams to visit and to fulfil that requirement and still play to their potential.
As a result of cross-border talks, up until Round 10 – the planned ‘Super Round’ hosted in Melbourne – local derby games only are scheduled on either side of the Tasman.
Unsettled already, to fans it will feel alien as they view a full list of teams occupying the Super Rugby Pacific 2022 standings, yet not having the chance to play their Australian rivals now makes this year as challenging a one in the 25+ years history of the league. Not exactly how fans imagined the 2022 calendar opening, yet at least it will allow for games to be contested across the country. That is still in the plan now, with the interruption of guidelines in the red light setting.
Played with few, or no fans, in attendance[again].
Sad news around our preseason fixtures due to the recent traffic light shift 👇🏽https://t.co/3usQpJDGRI
— Highlanders (@Highlanders) January 25, 2022
The virus has reached New Zealand, and the impending impact of Omicron looks set to rule out crowds attending scheduled games now in any more than pods of 100*. As the implications of the red light settings are revealed each day in the ever-changing professional sports world, Super Rugby Pacific has to face fresh restrictions imposed by Health and Government guidelines. Similar controls were imposed on the tennis Australian Open – only 50% of crowds can attend in Melbourne. That city and state have been incredibly affected by the pandemic with crowds of spectators all but removed from enjoying sport live in person for months on end.
Crowds sacrificed in Omicron affected 2022 Super Rugby season
Limited crowd numbers will have organizers rearranging their seating chart designs, and in some cases having to refund season passes as spectators find they cannot attend games they had so looked forward to. Like the opening game where the new Moana Pasifika are lined up to play the Blues at Mt Smart Stadium. It was to be a likely sellout yet now…..the numbers could only account for as much as 1500. Small groups of 100, who each need separated entrances/exits, amenities, and even food and beverage stalls.
Almost a nightmare if not for SkySport coverage still providing a basic view of the competition start and NZ Rugby should at least have quality Covid-19 data to use from European domestic rugby, in its analysis of the dos and don’ts. To use vaccination certificates and screening at this early stage but, there is no hiding their disappointment. As each day brings the cancellation of other sports events, festivals, and activities where mass numbers can act like ‘super spreaders’ of the virus, then restrictions are the sensible approach. In fact, Western Australia – which has always held a strong response similar to New Zealand’s actions – has now altered their state border re-opening. Hence the Western Force’s preseason will be as badly affected as the Kiwi teams will be.
Western Force are likely to be heading into their new Super Rugby Pacific campaign without any pre-season trial matches. https://t.co/ob7fNUQc8O
— The West Sport (@TheWestSport) January 25, 2022
But from the outset, the Super Rugby Pacific new season could end up as an ‘Aotearoa only’ championship as it has for the last two years. Rugby yes, but transformed still from what supporters enjoyed in 2019 and in previous years.
The 2022 Super Rugby Pacific new season begins in Friday, February 18. Across both conferences, Round one will see Moana Pasifika v Blues at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland. Meanwhile, on that same Friday night, the Waratahs v Fijian Drua at CommBank Stadium, Sydney.
See the full 2022 season draw here.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images