Despite news of the New Zealand-Australia travel bubble, contingency plans are still in place for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman to be affected by COVID-19.
From April 19, New Zealanders can travel to Australia and vice versa, without the two-week mandatory isolation required during the pandemic.
The news has been welcomed by NZ Rugby and Rugby Australia, who can now finalise plans to stage a joint competition, once their respective Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby Australia conclude.
According to NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum, contingencies must cater for the coronavirus resurfacing on either side of the ditch.
But with the mooted start date of May 14, NZR can watch how the trans-Tasman bubble plays out and how it might affect the new competition.
"Obviously, we're hoping that the six-week tournament can go off without a hitch, but I think we've learnt enough over the last 12 months that it might not," Lendrum says. “We have to plan, potentially, for some disruption.
"The beauty of the competition start date - which is still over a month away - is that we get to see the bubble open, we get to learn a lot over the first few weeks and that will inform our contingency planning.
"In effect, it's business as usual for us. We wait for circumstances to arise, we know what contingencies we've got in our back pocket and we move when we need to."
With South Africa's Super Rugby status uncertain after voting to join an expanded European PRO14, the relationship between New Zealand and Australia is more crucial than ever. Having both sides continue to play each other regularly will be vital for the competition's future.
"For us, it was always plan A,” says Lendrum. “This is what we wanted - New Zealand teams haven't played Australian teams for 12 months now.
"There's two really strong Australian teams lurking on the other side in the Reds and the Brumbies at the moment. I know our teams will be looking forward to testing ourselves against them and there's plenty of potential in the other three teams.
"We're looking at that competition going from strength to strength each week and think ours is going really well as well. The quality is improving each week.
"I know the players are excited, the coaches will be excited by a different challenge. The opportunity to make not just one, but two finals over the course of the Super Rugby season... it's all new and very exciting for everyone.
"We're committed to a trans-Tasman vision for Super Rugby or what follows Super Rugby next year."
Lendrum also says that the idea of a 'super round' where all teams play their matches in one city over a weekend, has been scrapped.
That will mean that certain teams are afforded a competition advantage, with the five game schedule affording some teams three home matches, and the others only two.
"That's one thing we've run out of runway to do this year with the uncertainty. It was too hard to contemplate basing ourselves all in one city.
"It's certainly a concept we want to explore in future when conditions around our competition are a little bit more settled.
"Of course there's more risk committing to one side of the Tasman for five games rather than one or two but there's a lot of additional planning required to go into that concept. At this point we haven't been able to advance that."
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