Australia's Queensland Reds and South Africa's Bulls in Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane on March 14
Australia's Queensland Reds and South Africa's Bulls in Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane on March 14 Image Credit: AFP

Wellington: Professional rugby union teams in New Zealand and Australia have ceased training as efforts to establish alternative domestic competitions after the suspension of Super Rugby failed in the face of government moves to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Rugby Australia hoped to launch on April 3 a competition involving its four Super Rugby teams and the Perth-based Western Force but now says that competition won’t begin until at least May 1.

New Zealand also sought to create a competition among its five Super Rugby franchises but said Monday that would not be possible as the government moved toward a more comprehensive national lockdown.

All rugby in New Zealand has now been stopped “for the foreseeable future” and teams have been told to stop group training. New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said his organisation’s priority was the health of players and fans.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said the sport’s stakeholders were united behind the decision to suspend all rugby at this stage.

“Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby teams have made the decision today to suspend the start of the revised competition on the latest guidance from the various government and health authorities and our chief medical officer,” Castle said in a statement.

``Our priority is the health and welfare of our athletes and our wider rugby community as we continue to adapt to an unprecedented and constantly-evolving situation for our game and society.’’

All Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby teams will cease training for at least two weeks, though individual players are able to continue personal fitness regimes.

Phil Thompson, chief executive of the Australian conference-leading Brumbies, said players should continue to work out “as best they can.”

“A bit of old school stuff. There’s a hill, run up it, type of thing,” Thompson said,

Coaches will remain in contact with players by video conference.

The suspension of play will put heavy financial pressure on Australian and New Zealand teams and on broadcasters. Players haven’t yet been asked to take pay cuts but that might come. In New Zealand support staff may be eligible for government wage support.

There is so far no indication when teams may regather, whether any more matches will be played in this Super Rugby season or whether midyear test matches will go ahead.