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Super Rugby to be suspended after weekend games due to virus

Super Rugby organizers decided Saturday to suspend the competition indefinitely after the weekend's games because of the coronavirus pandemic.

SANZAAR, the southern hemisphere rugby body that runs Super Rugby, said the tournament would be off for the “foreseeable future.” The decision was prompted by the New Zealand government's directive that people entering from trips overseas, including returning New Zealand citizens, would have to self-isolate for 14 days from Monday.

That would make Super Rugby untenable, with the tournament featuring teams from five nations, including five from New Zealand, and involving regular travel between countries. Teams from Australia, Japan, South Africa and Argentina also compete in the competition, which runs from January through to June. All five countries have confirmed coronavirus cases.

“The safety and welfare of the public, our players and other stakeholders is paramount and as previously stated we were always going to abide by government and health authority instructions on the issue of COVID-19 containment," SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said.

“We are extremely disappointed for the players, our fans, broadcasters and partners but given the complexity of our competition structure, and the multiple geographies that we cover, we have no other option but to align with such directives. We also believe it is time for all those players currently overseas to return home and to be with their families.”

There were still three games in round seven of 18 rounds in the the regular season to be played when the suspension announcement came. There's one in Durban, South Africa, later Saturday and games in Argentina and Australia on Sunday.

Sunday's game between Argentina's Jaguares and the New Zealand-based Highlanders in Buenos Aires was already set to be played with no fans because of the Buenos Aires mayor's ban on mass gatherings. An earlier game on Saturday had already been moved out of Tokyo because of the virus outbreak.

Apart from the Jaguares and Highlanders matchup, fans were allowed to attend all other matches in the round. But Australia had decided stadiums would be closed to fans from next week. That decision is now redundant.

The game moved out of Tokyo featured the defending-champion Crusaders, one of the New Zealand teams, against the Tokyo-based Sunwolves. It was relocated to Brisbane, Australia, where the Crusaders were reduced to 13 men in the last 15 minutes and stuttered to a 49-14 win.

A scratch Crusaders lineup lacked the cohesion at first to break down a stubborn Sunwolves defense. Fullback George Bridge brought a touch of class, providing the last pass in tries to Sevu Reece and Tom Christie that gave the Christchurch-based Crusaders a 14-7 halftime lead.

The Crusaders started the second half with a try but the Sunwolves replied with a fine solo try to flyhalf Garth April to keep the game close at 21-14 after 55 minutes.

Reece's second and a try to Sione Havili gave the Crusaders a 35-14 lead before they were reduced to 14 men when replacement Hugh Roach was shown a red card for elbowing. They were down to 13 men when Reece received a yellow card but still managed tries to Braydon Ennor and Fergus Burke.

Winger Rieko Ioane scored two tries as the Auckland-based Blues overran South Africa's Lions 43-10, posting their first home win of the season.

The match continued a major revival for Ioane, who lost his All Blacks starting spot at last year's World Cup in Japan. The Blues last won the Super Rugby title in 2003 but, with recent wins over New Zealand rivals and in matches home and away, are beginning to shape as title contenders.

The match was tight at first and the Blues led by only 15-10 after 35 minutes. But a penalty try just before the break, for a professional foul by Lions flanker Ruan Vermaak, gave the Blues a comfortable lead and confidence going into the second half.

Ioane scored the first try of the match in the eighth minute, using his power rather than speed to break the Lions' defense. The Lions replied with their only try in the 16th minute, breaking down the Blues resistance after multiple phases.

A superb try to fullback Stephen Perofeta after a Lions turnover gave the Blues a 15-10 lead and the penalty try put them comfortably ahead at halftime.

Ioane scored his second soon after the break as the Blues became increasingly dominant. Tries to Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Hoskins Sotutu earned the Blues a valuable bonus point.

At Brisbane, in the second half of the doubleheader that included the Crusaders-Sunwolves game, the Queensland Reds came back from a 17-0 deficit after 20 minutes to beat the Pretoria, South Africa-based Bulls 41-17.

The Reds scored scored three tries in each half to claim just their second win of the season, with Queensland captain Liam Wright leading the way.

Only 7,335 fans turned out for the two matches in Brisbane, with many heeding virus-linked warnings about large gatherings ahead of an Australian government edict banning non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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