What’s next for New Zealand rugby’s national stalled competitions?

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Wellington winger Julian heard on the charge against Waikato in the second round of the AFN.

Michael Bradley / Getty Images

Wellington winger Julian heard on the charge against Waikato in the second round of the AFN.

Almost everything is on the table when it comes to New Zealand’s three major national rugby competitions, including the worst-case scenario of a year without a league.

However, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Provincial Rugby Union chief Steve Lancaster is optimistic that will not happen, despite the country having been in a Level 4 lockdown for more than a week, and no apparent end in sight for Auckland in particular.

NZR remains committed to the Bunnings NPC, Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) and Heartland Championship, but is essentially on hold until the government signals a change in alert levels.

No play is allowed until down to Alert Level 2, NPC rounds three and four, Farah Palmer Cup rounds six and seven, and the first two rounds of the Heartland Championship have already been postponed since latest Covid-19 epidemic immobilized the country last week.

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How far the competitions can be pushed is still being worked out, with the Provincial Unions (PUs), the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, broadcaster Sky and the Super Rugby franchises all set to have their say. to say.

As it stands, the NPC final is scheduled for October 23, with players entitled to four weeks off before Super Rugby pre-season training typically begins in December.

Waikato's Carla Hohepa passes the ball in the Farah Palmer Cup fourth round round between Otago and Waikato at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 7.

Joe Allison / Getty Images

Waikato’s Carla Hohepa passes the ball in the Farah Palmer Cup fourth round round between Otago and Waikato at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 7.

“We don’t know for sure when that date is,” Lancaster said when asked if the NPC could finish as late as November 28, as he did last year.

“At the moment, we have a call to the PUs, just to get back to us with the latest news on which they can play. We are not yet off the track to be able to extend the season. “

The availability of match venues, some of which also serve as venues for summer sports, will impact the depth of the year some PUs are able to play.

Lancaster confirmed midweek matches were an option for the NPC if they lacked the leeway to extend it, but unlikely for the PFC and the Heartland Championship.

South Canterbury's Shayne Anderson jumps over King Country's Tana Tuhakaraina's tackle in the Heartland Championship Meads Cup semi-final match at Timaru in 2018.

Martin Hunter / Getty Images

South Canterbury’s Shayne Anderson jumps off King Country’s Tana Tuhakaraina’s tackle in the Heartland Championship Meads Cup semi-final match at Timaru in 2018.

This could mean the return of “storm weeks”, forcing teams to play three games in the span of 10 days.

“I think no one likes it, but it’s definitely a possibility, certainly this year under the circumstances,” Lancaster said.

“Definitely for the NPC it’s a little harder with the FPC and the Heartland Championship because you’re talking about amateur players, who have jobs usually Monday through Friday.”

If the Covid Auckland hotspot remained on higher alert levels than other regions, Lancaster essentially ruled out the possibility of moving teams out of the region, which they considered – but opted against – the year last when a Covid-19 outbreak hit the country’s largest city ahead of the contest start date.

CHECKPOINT / RNZ

The All Blacks travel to Australia later in the week for Bledisloe’s third game and the Rugby Championship.

“If the Auckland region teams are locked up longer than elsewhere, we may have to schedule some of their games midweek to catch up with them towards the end of the season,” Lancaster said.

“Everything is on the table to make things happen. The only thing that we are really clear and unified on among all of our stakeholders is that we have to do everything we can to play a full season. Either way, within reason and without compromising the safety or well-being of anyone, we will look into it.

Canterbury's Chay Fihaki on his way to score one of his two tries against the Turbos in Christchurch on August 14.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

Canterbury’s Chay Fihaki on his way to score one of his two tries against the Turbos in Christchurch on August 14.

The worst-case scenario after a truncated draw would be a year without a championship, with as many games as possible, but no silver at stake, Lancaster confirmed.

The PFC have only two rounds left before the playoffs and the final scheduled for September 10, while the Heartland Championship is scheduled to end on October 24.

Lancaster said “we will do everything possible” to complete the Heartland Championship, which was abandoned entirely last year, and agreed that the FPC should be finished without Black Ferns, who lost the home tests to Australia. but are expected to play two away tests each against England and France in October and November.

The government will review the alert level settings on Monday.

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