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All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett (C), seen here with the Auckland Blues has been selected for the North v South Island game

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New Zealand’s North-South rugby delayed over virus travel ban

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Aug 21 New Zealand’s much-anticipated North v South Island rugby match was delayed Friday after health authorities refused to let players travel from locked-down Auckland.

Squads were due to assemble in Wellington on Monday ahead of the August 29 fixture, but New Zealand Rugby said 14 Auckland-based players and five support staff were barred from leaving because of coronavirus restrictions.

As a result, New Zealand Rugby postponed the match for a week to September 5.

“We’re disappointed that the game can’t go ahead at this stage next week, but we understand and respect the government’s decision,” New Zealand Rugby head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said.

He said a decision was yet to be made on whether the match will be played in Auckland, as originally planned, or Wellington.

Auckland is currently in lockdown as New Zealand’s largest city attempts to contain a second wave of infections that ended a streak of 102 days without community transmission nationwide.

Restrictions are due to be eased next week,and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said there are encouraging signs the cluster of cases is under control.

The government is set to make a decision Monday on whether to continue the lockdown and New Zealand Rugby said it would wait until then to determine the match venue.

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The North-South match was first contested in 1897 and was once among the most anticipated and bitterly contested matches in the New Zealand rugby calendar.

It fell out of favour after the advent of professionalism in 1995, but returns this year after New Zealand’s home Test schedule was thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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