NZ border forces Super Rugby into re-draw
The inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season will begin as separate Australian and New Zealand conferences after border restrictions forced organisers into a fixture revamp.
Rugby bosses on both sides of the Tasman were hopeful of kicking off the expanded competition in February free of travel constraints.
However, the New Zealand government's reluctance to open its border without quarantine or self-isolation will mean Super Rugby Pacific will resemble this year's domestic-based version for the first nine rounds.
Moana Pasifika -- a new Auckland-based team with players of Pacific heritage -- will begin the season on February 18 against reigning champions the Blues at Auckland's Mount Smart Stadium, rather than a meeting with the Brumbies as originally slated.
The Fijian Drua had already based themselves in Lennox Head in NSW and will form part of the Australian conference, with their maiden game against the NSW Waratahs on the same night as Moana Pasifika debut.
The new schedule retains the same competition format announced in November, with a full round robin and single points table, however, the six New Zealand-based teams and six Australian-based teams will play their opening eight matches on different sides of the Tasman.
The fixture rethink will result in sides from hoth sides of the Tasman coming together for a Super Round in Melbourne between April 22-24.
The goal is then to have teams from the two conferences play against each other prior to a final series in June.
Teams will all play three other teams twice in a "rivalry round" home and away series.
Of course, the ongoing pandemic and rise of new Omicron variant means no format can be set in stone.
Jacinda Ardern's government has repeatedly denied efforts from all corners to dodge mandatory isolation periods, with the exception of granting training privileges to touring sides.
The hardline border stance keeps a string of other New Zealand clubs - including the NRL's Warriors, A-Leagues' Wellington Phoenix and NBL's Breakers - from playing at home.
"We believe these changes will allow us to navigate the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, while ensuring we maintain the integrity of the draw and the format of the new Super Rugby Pacific competition," Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos said.
"It's been a challenging environment over the last two years, but we're thankful to our teams and our partners in New Zealand Rugby, SANZAAR and our broadcasters for their support as we worked through this process together."
There will be 23 family-friendly afternoon kicks-off while all 91 matches will be ad-free, live and on-demand on Stan Sport and Saturday night's game will be simulcast free-to-air on the Nine Network.
"I'd like to thank Rugby Australia and all 12 Super Rugby clubs, and all our fans and partners, for their understanding, patience and flexibility in ensuring the competition is locked and loaded for 2022," New Zealand Rugby's competitions and performance boss Chris Lendrum said.
"The season opener between Moana Pasifika and the Blues shapes as an historic occasion in Auckland, as does the Fijian Drua's first match against the Waratahs on the same night."
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