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Sport

Rugby: With lockdown lifted, Blues' Eklund ready for North-South game

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Auckland Blues hooker Kurt Eklund said being locked down over the last two weeks had made for some “interesting times” but he was looking forward to getting back onto the pitch for this weekend’s North-South rugby match in Wellington.

Eklund was named in the ‘North’ squad for Saturday’s match between composite teams representing the country’s two main islands, but has not been able to do any real training for more than two weeks.

New Zealand’s largest city was placed into lockdown on Aug. 12 after a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus, while social distancing measures were also introduced for the rest of the country.

The lockdown was lifted on Sunday, allowing Auckland-based players to travel to Wellington, although social distancing measures remain in place until Sept. 6, ensuring the match will be played without a crowd.

“It has made for interesting times,” Eklund told reporters on Monday after the teams assembled in Wellington. “But it’s exciting to get down here and start rubbing shoulders with the boys that we’ll play with on Saturday.

“The boys are still in pretty good condition. We’ve had a bit of a rest so I’m looking forward to getting into a good training week.”

New Zealand Rugby had originally scheduled the match for Aug. 29 in Auckland but postponed it for a week once the lockdown was imposed and placed Wellington Regional Stadium on standby.

They decided last week to shift the game to Wellington due to the uncertainty of the lockdown being relaxed in Auckland as cases of community transmission continued to be discovered.

The game, which was an annual fixture on the New Zealand rugby calendar for much of the 20th century, should be the final chance for players to impress All Blacks coach Ian Foster before he names his first squad on Sunday.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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