WELLINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) - Professional rugby union resumed on Saturday after a three-month COVID-19 shutdown as the Otago Highlanders beat the Waikato Chiefs 28-27 in the opener of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
With a crowd of about 20,000 at the game, which was also broadcast to a global television audience, Highlanders replacement Bryn Gatland slotted a 79th-minute drop goal to down the Chiefs, who are coached by his father Warren.
The hometown Highlanders, roared on by thousands of Otago University students in ‘The Zoo’ section of the indoor stadium, had to overcome two periods with just 14 men after Vilimoni Koroi and Jona Nareki were sinbinned for dangerous tackles.
The game was regularly halted for a high number of penalties called under stricter interpretations around the tackle.
The competition has been organised by New Zealand Rugby after the main Super Rugby tournament, which also involves teams from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, was halted in mid-March to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford