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Melbourne Rebels' Ryan Louwrens passes during a Super Rugby match against South Africa's Golden Lions earlier this month. Clubs are mulling playing only matches against domestic opposition to rekindle the suspended season

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Suspended Super Rugby mulls derbies to fill the void

Melbourne Rebels’ Ryan Louwrens passes during a Super Rugby match against South Africa’s Golden Lions earlier this month. Clubs are mulling playing only matches against domestic opposition to rekindle the suspended season © AFP / William WEST

SYDNEY, Australia, Mar 17 – Super Rugby is exploring domestic derbies as a way of resuming competition after its coronavirus suspension, Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said Tuesday.

The southern hemisphere club championship, which features 15 teams from five countries, was halted last weekend after New Zealand said all inbound travellers must self-isolate for 14 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Australia quickly followed suit, leaving Super Rugby’s fate in the balance and clubs and national bodies facing the prospect of serious financial problems if the stoppage were to extend over a prolonged period.

“The impact of government decisions to contain the coronavirus has seen rugby in Australia impacted in ways that we could never have imagined,” Castle told reporters in Sydney.

“We support these decisions as the health and wellbeings of Australians must come first. However, any ongoing restrictions will put extreme pressure on Rugby Australia’s finances.”

Only seven rounds of Super Rugby have been played, leaving broadcasters, who have paid for 18, with no live games. Castle said discussions with governing body SANZAAR were under way on a number of alternative competition models.

It could see Australian teams Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels and the ACT Brumbies playing matches against each other and Japan’s Sunwolves, who are already in Australia.

New Zealand have five teams who could do the same, while South Africa have four and Argentina one, which would potentially mean the Jaguares having to base themselves in South Africa.

“The travel restrictions mean that cross-border competition doesn’t seem realistic so domestic obviously leads the conversation,” Castle said.

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“That’s all the work we’re doing and we expect we’d be able to communicate on that in the coming days.”

South Africa’s Coastal Sharks currently top the overall table, one point ahead of the Brumbies.

Despite what could be crippling financial costs to rugby clubs worldwide from the global health crisis, Castle insisted the sport would survive.

“Yes, there’s going to be some bumps in the road, there’s no doubt about that, and we ultimately might have to make some difficult decisions along the way. But the sport’s not going anywhere,” she said.

Rival code rugby league plans to press ahead in Australia behind closed doors with the NRL season, which began last weekend.

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