Australia eyes July rugby restart with Western Force returning

Sydney (AFP) –


A competition between Australia's four Super Rugby teams could be launched in early July as coronavirus restrictions ease, with the axed Western Force and Japan's Sunwolves as possible participants, officials revealed.

Governing body SANZAAR suspended Super Rugby in mid-March as the pandemic closed international borders, but two plans have been drawn up to restart rugby in Australia, said the official website.

The first option is a five-team championship featuring Australia's four Super Rugby teams, Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, ACT Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels, plus Western Force. The second is a six-team version including the Sunwolves.

Rugby Australia's high performance manager Ben Whitaker said the Brumbies and the Waratahs were due to begin limited workouts this week.

All teams should be back to full training by June 8 with the competition planned to begin four weeks after that.

"The draw we are looking at is a 12-week competition (with) 10 weeks of regular round matches and depending on the number of teams," he said.

The move comes after New Zealand Rugby on Monday unveiled plans for a domestic competition, Super Rugby Aotearoa, kicking off on June 13.

The Perth-based Western Force were axed from Super Rugby at the end of the 2017 season and now compete in the National Rugby Championship and Global Rapid Rugby, the Asia-Pacific competition founded by Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest.

The Sunwolves are in their final season of Super Rugby after southern hemisphere governing body SANZAAR decided to drop them due to skyrocketing costs and poor on-field performances.

Including the Force in a domestic competition would be relatively straightforward, but Whitaker conceded that virus-induced border shutdowns made the Sunwolves a more difficult proposition.

"The Sunwolves' situation is a bit more complicated than the others with their team, not just coming from Japan but a variety of countries having to assemble in Australia to take part," he said.

"We're working closely with government on the opportunity for them to do that.

Whitaker suggested the Japanese team could be based in Queensland or New South Wales for the duration of the competition.

Authorities in Canberra have already set a precedent for allowing overseas sporting teams into the country, with the National Rugby League's New Zealand Warriors basing themselves in Tamworth before a competition restart scheduled for May 28.

Whitaker also hoped that Australia's home Tests in July against Ireland and Fiji could be rescheduled to later in the year, along with Rugby Championship fixtures against New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.