NZ still hopeful for Rugby Championship tests after match postponed

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) were still “really confident” the Rugby Championship could be played later this year after they were forced to postpone the North-South rugby match scheduled for Auckland next week because of COVID-19 restrictions.

New Zealand’s government last week imposed a lockdown in Auckland and social distancing restrictions for the rest of the country after a re-emergence of the novel coronavirus in the country’s largest city.

The country is the preferred host for the annual southern hemisphere competition also involving national teams from Australia, South Africa and Argentina, with the championship tentatively scheduled to run from November-December.

“Every day, every week, things change and fluctuate,” NZR’s head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum told reporters after the North-South match was postponed until Sept. 5.

“There has always been risk around Bledisloe and Rugby Championship being played.

“Right now we remain really confident. We don’t have to make those decisions today, fortunately. We have time.”

Lendrum, however, said the North-South match, between composite sides representing the country’s two main islands, would likely be cancelled if unable to be played on Sept. 5.

“At this stage we don’t think we can push past that weekend,” Lendrum said.

“We are working with a whole range of issues, including looking at the timing and venues for All Blacks fixtures ... and every week we lose to COVID we condense up a bit harder.”

The government plans to make a decision on the status of the restrictions on Monday.

NZR would make a final decision on the North-South game after that, Lendrum said.

The venue for the game was still undetermined although Wellington Regional Stadium had been placed on standby to replace Eden Park and both would remain in contention.

Both sides were scheduled to assemble in Wellington on Monday, but under the current restrictions Auckland-based players are unable to leave the city.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Lincoln Feast