Super Rugby suspended after this weekend due to coronavirus
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Hong Kong (AFP)
Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere's premier rugby union club competition, is suspending its season after this weekend's games due to the coronavirus pandemic, the organisers said Saturday.
Organisers SANZAAR said they had "no option but to suspend the 2020 Super Rugby tournament at the conclusion of this weekend's matches for the foreseeable future".
SANZAAR said it had taken its decision after the New Zealand government announced that all returning travellers, including Super Rugby players, will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Five New Zealand teams, including reigning champions Canterbury Crusaders, play in the 15-team tournament which also includes clubs from Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
Crusaders played Saturday and went temporarily top of the table after securing a 49-14 bonus point win over the Tokyo Sunwolves in Brisbane.
The Canterbury-based side will be able to return home to New Zealand before the midnight Sunday deadline.
"SANZAAR completely understands the directive issued by the New Zealand Government given concerns globally over the COVID-19 virus and the primary aim to reduce exposure and spread of the virus," the organisers said.
Saturday's game between Jaguares of Argentina and New Zealand side Highlanders in Buenos Aires was cancelled just hours before the 2300 GMT kick-off.
The match, which was due to be held behind closed doors, was called off to enable the Highlanders to return to New Zealand before the Sunday midnight deadline.
SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said "our priority is to ensure the players currently overseas return home healthy and safely to be with their families".
He said SANZAAR had not taken the decision to call off the game lightly, but the welfare of players and team management was "paramount".
Under the rules a match cancelled in these circumstances is officially declared a draw with both Jaguares and Highlanders receiving two points apiece.
Sunday's all-Australian match between ACT Brumbies and NSW Waratahs at 0505 GMT will now be the last game to go ahead before the suspension comes into place.
The tournament was already facing obstacles with fans barred not only from the game in Argentina but also Australia from next weekend.
- 'Unfortunate but understandable' -
Next weekend, the Auckland Blues were scheduled to play ACT Brumbies at home, with New Zealand club Waikato Chiefs in the South African city of Durban to play the Coastal Sharks.
Sharks displaced Crusaders at the top of the table after sealing a 24-14 victory over the Western Stormers in Saturday's South African showdown in Durban.
The SANZAAR announcement to suspend the competition after round seven had come just 80 minutes before the kick-off at Kings Park.
"I am not surprised by the suspension given the spread of the virus and just hope the break is not too long," said Sharks skipper and centre Lukhanyo Am.
Stormers prop and captain Steven Kitshoff commented: "The suspension is unfortunate but understandable because the good health of people has to come before sport. Let us hope the break is short."
The coronavirus pandemic has rocked world sport. Football leagues have been suspended across the globe and cricket has been deeply affected with England's tour of Sri Lanka abandoned and the lucrative Indian Premier League announcing it will suspend play from March 29 to April 15.
© 2020 AFP