Not even into Super Rugby Pacific Round 2 of the new calendar, two games have been affected directly by the Omicron variant – both games involving unfortunate newcomers, Moana Pasifika.
Unfairly, and in the franchise’s breakout year too, Pasifika players and management have been the side worst affected by the virus’ surge within the New Zealand sports community. As reported, it has not only ripped away the spectator component of the competition, it has stolen two matches from this one side’s season start. A pair of postponed fixtures were called by organizers, due to new or recent cases of Omicron within Moana Pasifika, under health and safety conditions that would have stressed the group even further [if asked to play this Sunday afternoon].
A sad announcement to reproduce here, especially when imagining the expected requirement of replayed Moana fixtures in either their bye round, and/or midweek. [tbc]
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) February 21, 2022
Is this all of their bad luck out of the way for this franchise? Looking at the bright side, it can’t get any worse. But that is being flippant for such a serious subject. Momentum has been lost; not only for the Moana Pasifika players, but for the Blues [their first opponents], and now the Chiefs.
Super Rugby Pacific Round 2 continues; Moana Pasifika v Chiefs postponed
It was not totally unexpected; when you consider the ‘Queenstown bubble’ NZR experiment was hastily put together and the Auckland side entered having their final training at Mt Smart Stadium that included a person who was in contact with the virus. From there, the positive cases and negative impact of isolation rules saw the Queenstown base now abandoned. Having only lasted three weeks, it did its job in regards to the other sides – just not Moana Pasifika.
Nobody could plan for the Covid interruption, yet Round 2 might be one of the lowest points, as the Covid protocols adapt to new rapid antigen testing applicable to such an essential service – entertaining fans unable to attend in person. This week, the Super Rugby medical advisory group recommended that the match should be postponed as there was not sufficient time for the squad, specifically those who are recovering from COVID-19, to adequately prepare for their first Super Rugby Pacific match this Sunday.
NZR head of tournaments and competitions Cameron Good said the postponement was the only responsible decision. “Everyone wants to see Moana Pasifika out on the field, and we explored every possibility to make that happen this weekend including pushing the Chiefs match out two days to Sunday.
“However, we were not willing to compromise player safety and wellbeing, so in the end this was an easy decision. We remain committed to re-scheduling both of the postponed matches involving Moana Pasifika.”
Other matches have gone ahead. Last weekend, two games were played successfully on Saturday, and for Super Rugby Pacific Round 2, both the remaining New Zealand games are to be played scheduled [as will all three Australian matches]. The one game postponed would have in fact, been a Chiefs home fixture. A rare Sunday afternoon game in ‘the Tron’. Instead, the home side ‘returned home undefeated’ after their opening-round win, and escape the Queenstown bubble back to their Waikato homes. The other sides can also leave Queenstown, with the Blues electing to stay on until Thursday next week, as will the Crusaders.
Better placed though than Moana Pasifika though. That group will look to return to full capacity over the next few days in Wanaka. As the Crusaders v Moana Pasifika game approaches in Round 3, you might imagine excitement grows for the game next weekend. But, the family-orientated Moana Pasifika group will still feel ‘isolated’. Not up in their South Auckland base with their families, so still being harshly affected by the remnants of the virus’ hand.
Harsh too if the draw is needing to be rescheduled around them. This Sunday’s match gone, there is plenty of empathy for the side who are still yet to officially begin their 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season and are definitely on the back foot for reasons out of their control.
Crusaders look good in Round 1 but ‘watch those Aussies’
The split competition will lead some into thinking that there are two ‘opposite’ championships, and it does need clarification. Broadcasters StanSport and SkySport are not complimentary; in the way that radio and live streaming are identified as one media yet are diametrically opposed businesses. So the alignment of the competition is altered, with the table reflecting that.
In terms of power teams in football circles, the name The Crusaders gives you a good amount of name recognition. And with multiple Super Rugby titles under their arm, if not all teams are watching the powerful side’s progress. A win in Round One over the Hurricanes was a good opening statement. And on Saturday, they will face the Highlanders at Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The revised Round 2 schedule ✌🏼 Our match against Highlanders moves to Friday night
— Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) February 21, 2022
Looking towards the local derby, head coach Scott Robertson was quoted as saying; “We know how dangerous the Highlanders can be,” Robertson said. “We only have to look back at our last encounter with them to appreciate the challenge in front of us on Friday night, but we’ve prepared well and we’re ready for it.”
While preparing for the lineup of domestic games [with the borders being closed to International travelers], the Crusaders should pay close attention to their Aussie rivals. With wins for the Reds, Brumbies, and New South Wales sides, they sit near the top of the standings. It will be hard to compare these sides so video analysis will have to be banked, before New Zealand teams are scheduled to fly to Melbourne in mid-April.
Only then will pure comparisons be visualized but, until then, each conference of teams must play their domestic rivals before any trans-Tasman competition begins, and truly represents which sides are likely to head towards possible play-offs contention. For now, Super Rugby Pacific Round 2 continues.
But expect the Crusaders to be there, or thereabouts, in terms of building another Championship winning group under the tutelage of Scott Razor Robertson.
Editorial comment; the idea of a trans-Tasman contest is only but a whisper right now. Why? Is it because too many are expecting continued or even ‘worse’ disruption to fixtures then such as Super Rugby Pacific Round 2 games in New Zealand. Many see games played in Sydney and Brisbane, see it as a manufactured scenario. They argue that restrictive controls and measures from a paranoid Government are limiting the ability for sport to be contested.
While the political has to be separated from the medical stance which put player safety at the forefront, it is a harsh reflection that having held off the Omicron wave so far, it’s surge now throughout New Zealand will continue to interrupt the local competition. Super Rugby Aupiki are now also going into a Taupo based bubble, to protect those player’s health and the ability to play those women’s teams’ fixtures in full.
Covid-19 is not yet finished with professional sport. A virus that aimed straight at the Moana Pasifika franchise yet, it has not broken them. Recovering now, watch for some fireworks post-Easter from the Moana Pasifika men.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images