COVID outbreak causes fresh disruption to New Zealand rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland has again disrupted New Zealand’s reorganized rugby season, forcing the postponement of next week’s match between teams representing the North and South Islands.

The match, which serves partly as a trial for New Zealand All Blacks selection, has been moved from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5.

With Auckland currently under Level 3 lockdown, at which major sports events cannot take place, the match was to be moved to Wellington, which can stage major matches without fans. But the 14 Auckland-based players due to play in the match cannot travel outside of Auckland while the Level 3 restrictions remain.

The players sought exemptions to travel to Wellington but were denied.

New Zealand Rugby on Friday said that if Auckland moves to Level 2 or lower by Sept. 5 the match will be played at Auckland’s Eden Park and if Wellington moves to Level 1, at which fans can attend, it will be played in Wellington.

“We’re disappointed that the game can’t go ahead at this stage next week but we understand and respect the Government’s decision,” NZR spokesman Chris Lendrum said. “We’re no different from hundreds of other New Zealanders who have also had their requests for exemption turned down, so we have to abide by the decision.

“We know everyone wants the game to go ahead, the players and fans are all looking forward to it and we think it’ll be a real boost for the country during these unsettling times.”

The New Zealand government is due to make an announcement on future alert levels on Monday.

Sports resumed in New Zealand in June after a strict national lockdown and restrictions were lifted during a period of more than 100 days when the country recorded no new cases of COVID-19. It meant big crowds were allowed at domestic Super Rugby matches, until a new coronavirus cluster emerged in Auckland earlier this month.

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

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