Stuff sports reporters
18:13, Feb 22 2022

Over half the squad are still isolating and are unlikely to be ready to play by this weekend.
Super Rugby Pacific’s Queenstown bubble is soon to burst, with the Chiefs leaving the resort town on Wednesday, but New Zealand Rugby still says it has been a success.

That comes despite NZR head of tournaments and competitions Cameron Good accepting Super Rugby teams will likely see more players test positive for Covid-19 or become close contacts before the season is out, given the rapid spread of the Omicron outbreak.

Originally the teams were set to be based in Queenstown for at least the first three weeks of the Super Rugby Pacific competition but as first reported by Stuff, NZR has brought that forward.

The Moana Pasifika team experiencing a Covid-19 exposure event before entering the Queenstown bubble – that began spreading through the squad, with 15 players remaining in isolation as of Monday – and Government protocol changes have shifted the landscape dramatically, Good said.

Moana Pasifika will now play its inaugural game against the Crusaders in Dunedin next week after this week’s match against the Chiefs – which had been rescheduled to be played on Sunday – was called off on Tuesday morning.

Moana Pasifika and the Crusaders will likely remain in the bubble for that match but the Highlanders, Blues and Hurricanes are likely to leave after this weekend’s games, but no firm departure dates are set, Good said.

"I expect we will make a decision within the next 48 hours," he said.

“We’re working closely with the teams about their plans, how they exit, when they exit and how to get them home safely?

Circumstances are different for each club, Good said.

Moving out of the bubble increases the risk of Covid-19 exposures and Good said NZR was acutely aware of the risk but also see it as workable.

"This is going to be a difficult three to six weeks."

Government settings have changed a lot from when the bubble was first formed, from phase one until today, where a move to phase three seems near, Good said.

"The whole way that we can manage the teams, manage positive cases but probably more particularly the close contacts has changed over that time," Good said.

The biggest advantage being a reduction for isolation periods in phases two and three for positive cases and close contacts.

"That's one of the key reasons why we're now confident that teams can return home.

"Queenstown was never a competition solution, it was a way to enable us to get a really strong pre-season and get the competition underway and reassess and that's what we are doing now.”

Good confirmed this weekend's round two matches between the Highlanders and Crusaders plus the Blues v Hurricanes will take place as scheduled at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Good also said midweek games are the favoured option to catch up on postponed games rather than them not going ahead or extending the season.

“We think there are definite opportunities to reschedule the matches, so that's where our focus is right now.”