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NZR hope to play last Aotearoa games if COVID-19 curbs lifted

The government imposed a lockdown on Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and restrictions on the rest of the country after new COVID-19 infections emerged on Tuesday.

FILE: Highlanders' Daniel Lienert-Brown (L) celebrates victory with teammate Liam Coltman during the Super Rugby match between the Otago Highlanders and Waikato Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on 13 June 2020. Picture: AFP

WELLINGTON - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) says it wants to complete the domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa competition by playing the final two games this weekend but only if the government lifts COVID-19 restrictions imposed on Wednesday.

The government imposed a lockdown on Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and restrictions on the rest of the country after new COVID-19 infections emerged on Tuesday.

The restrictions will be reviewed on Friday.

The Otago Highlanders are due to host the Wellington Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday before the Auckland Blues host the Canterbury Crusaders at a sold-out Eden Park on Sunday.

“The preference is to play them this week,” NZR’s head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum told reporters on a conference call. “We want to conclude the competition.”

However, the decision would rest solely on what the government says on Friday.

“It is possible that we could have the game in Dunedin but not a game in Auckland,” he said.

“But we just have to wait until we get the decision from the government on Friday. We have been in lock step with them all the way through COVID and we trust their advice and will follow it.”

The Blues said on Monday that all 43,236 available tickets had been sold for the last game of the domestic championship, which was organised after the wider Super Rugby competition was shut down in March.

The Crusaders wrapped up the title with a game to spare on Sunday.

A North-South match, which is being looked at as an All Blacks trial game, is scheduled for Eden Park for 29 August.

Organisers had hoped to base the annual Rugby Championship competition involving Australia, South Africa and Argentina in New Zealand later in the year.

Lendrum said it was too early to determine whether those matches can go ahead.

“We still have a significant amount of runway available before any possible All Blacks tests are played,” he said.