SYDNEY, Australia, Mar 19 – Australian Super Rugby players insisted it’s “business as usual” as they resumed training despite a coronavirus shutdown that has left the competition facing an uncertain future.
The southern hemisphere club championship, which features 15 teams from five countries, was halted last weekend after New Zealand and Australia imposed strict travel rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Only seven of the 18 rounds have been completed, with governing body SANZAAR looking at whether domestic games can be played as an alternative.
It could see Australia’s Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels and the ACT Brumbies facing each other, but without spectators after the Australian government banned large gatherings.
“So this is week one of Super Rugby being suspended over the coronavirus outbreak. It’s business as usual mostly,” Melbourne Rebels winger Harry Potter said in a video clip posted on Twitter.
“Training is back to normal, people are just getting on with things.”
“People are pretty happy to be here, there’s plenty of toilet paper, there’s plenty of food so everyone’s enjoying themselves,” he added, after panic-buying of toilet roll and other items at Australian supermarkets.
Super Rugby sides are the only rugby teams cleared to train in Australia, with all club and community games suspended until May.
Two members of the Australian Sevens team were this week cleared of COVID-19, but a Sydney University first-grade player tested positive at the weekend.
Waratahs assistant coach Chris Whitaker said daily temperature checks were in place for players, with training giving them “a bit of a break to the whole coronavirus thing”.
Brumbies lock Cadeyrn Neville also said it business as usual, but admitted it was odd not having a game at the end of the week.
“The things we know — no games for at least two weeks, non-essential staff are not here at the minute, just to limit any potential spread,” he told Rugby Australia’s website.
“As long as we’re careful with the way we operate, we should be able to stay ready with whatever happens next in the competition, with potential domestic games,” he added.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle admitted this week that one positive test could spell the end of Super Rugby this season.
Experts say Super Rugby, which has been forced to axe teams after an over-ambitious expansion, will face serious problems if the season is scrapped and member countries have to pay back tens of millions of dollars in broadcast fees.