Fresh players on standby and medical supplies could be a necessary evil for the six New Zealand-based coaches following confirmation the start of Super Rugby Pacific will be stacked with local derbies.
Covid travel restrictions have meant NZ Rugby and Rugby Australia had little option but alter the original draw and frontload the inaugural 12-team format with the first eight rounds being played on either side of the Tasman.
The sport’s eligibility rules have surprisingly been changed.
Given high injury counts were an unfortunate by-product of Super Rugby Aotearoa over the past two seasons, NZ Rugby hoped to avoid a similar scenario when the competition draw was first unveiled.
Fresh warnings about the Omicron variant, however, have resulted in the Government delaying the reopening of the border which forced Super Rugby Pacific stakeholders to scramble for Plan B.
While Super Rugby Aotearoa, which was played over two rounds and this year included a final, was a hit with the fans, coaches pointed at their casualty wards as proof of why they believed it was unsustainable.
Now they have no choice but to prepare their players for more of the same, albeit with fewer games than SRA.
NZ Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby and Performance Chris Lendrum said it was accepted that in a time of a pandemic, sacrifices had to be made.
“Everybody who is involved in Super Rugby knows the score over the last couple of years,” Lendrum said. “Of course it is not how you would do it if you had a clean sheet of paper, and that is evident from the draw that we put out a few weeks ago.
“That is how we wanted the competition to look. We can’t have that next year. Hopefully the year after, it can.”
The first game of the season will now be played between newcomers Moana Pasifika and the Blues at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on February 18. Chiefs will host the Highlanders in Hamilton and the Crusaders will welcome the Hurricanes to Christchurch the following day.
The revised draw has all 12 clubs traveling to Melbourne in round 10 for a “Super Round” on April 22-24. Trans-Tasman fixtures will resume in round 11.
For Moana Pasifika the first eight rounds shape as a red-hot introduction to the brutal nature of derbies. Given the intensity of these games in the past, it seems highly likely medical staff from all teams will be kept busy.
“We know the coaches will have a role in just making sure they manage their squads through the course of the competition because that start is quite intense for the New Zealand teams,” Lendrum added.
“But they have done it before and I know they are excited, mainly, about getting into footy in the New Year.”
Lendrum, who said creating a hub for all teams to base themselves in Australia, wasn’t part of the thinking: “That’s really a last resort for us. It’s really important we get our teams playing in front of our fans.”
The revised draw maintains the same key elements of the original draw with each team to play a total of 14 matches during the regular season, 11 round-robin fixtures plus three additional rivalry matches which will see each team play a home and away series against three other teams.
Themed rounds celebrating a women-in-rugby-round, culture round, and heritage round will also remain on the schedule with confirmation of new dates and other details to be announced early next year.
Family friendly afternoon kick-offs are a feature of the draw with 23 daytime matches in total, including ten in New Zealand.
All 12 clubs will still have their bye in either Round 7, Round 8 or Round 9 providing a fair chance for all teams to recharge as they launch their final push for a place in the final with all 91 matches live.
The eight-team play-off series which will kick-off in the first week of June.
Read the draw here: https://www.superrugby.co.nz/fixtures-and-standings.
SUPER RUGBY PACIFIC AT A GLANCE
- 12 teams: Moana Pasifika, Fijian Drua, Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Highlanders, Waratahs, Reds, Force, Brumbies, Rebels
- 14 regular season matches = 11 round-robin matches + 3 derby [rivalry] matches
- One bye round per team (all byes in Rounds 7,8 & 9)
- 8-team playoffs format (QFs: 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5)
Total Matches: 91 Season Length: 18 weeks = 15-week regular season + three-week playoff series.
Opening match: Friday 18 February: Moana Pasifika v Blues @ Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland.
Super Round: Round 10, Friday-Sunday 22-24 April @ AAMI Park Melbourne Park. Highlanders v Brumbies; Moana Pasifika v Force; Blues v Fijian Drua; Hurricanes v Reds; Chiefs v Waratahs; Crusaders v Rebels.
New Zealand-based teams home and away rivalry matches:
Blues Highlanders (H) Rd 4; (A) Rd 6Chiefs (H) Rd 3; (A) Rd 8Moana Pasifika (H) Rd 7; (A) Rd 1
Chiefs Blues (H) Rd 8; (A) Rd 3Crusaders (H) Rd 6; (A) Rd 4Moana Pasifika (H) Rd 2; (A) Rd 9
Crusaders Chiefs (H) Rd 4; (A) Rd 6Highlanders (H) Rd 7; (A) Rd 2Hurricanes (H) Rd 1; (A) Rd 8
Highlanders Blues (H) Rd 6; (A) Rd 4Crusaders (H) Rd 2; (A) Rd 7Hurricanes (H) Rd 9; (A) Rd 3
Hurricanes Crusaders (H) Rd 8; (A) Rd 1Highlanders (H) Rd 3; (A) Rd 9Moana Pasifika (H) Rd 4; (A) Rd 6
Moana Pasifika Blues (H) Rd 1; (A) Rd 7Hurricanes (H) Rd 6; (A) Rd 4Chiefs (H) Rd 9; (A) Rd 2