SYDNEY (Reuters) – Wallabies backs James O’Connor and Matt Toomua have welcomed the imminent opening of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand that has cleared the way for a Trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition in May and June.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that the country would allow quarantine-free visits by Australians from April 19, raising the likelihood that the six-week competition will go ahead.
The five Super Rugby teams from each country have been restricted to domestic competitions since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 25th season of the inter-continental version last March.
O’Connor, whose Queensland Reds are flying high at the top of Super Rugby AU standings, said his team were desperate to test their mettle against the Super Rugby Aotearoa teams in a competition scheduled to start on May 14.
“We’re very excited,” the flyhalf told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“We want a shot at them, we want to play the Kiwis. I think everyone wants to see it and I think that it would bring the best out in us.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said last month he thought it “essential” that the Trans-Tasman competition went ahead to get an indication of how Australian rugby was progressing.
Governing body SANZAAR were still taking stock of the announcement on Tuesday and may yet have to rejig the already-published schedule to reduce the number of times the teams fly across the Tasman Sea.
Melbourne Rebels playmaker and players’ union chief Toomua said, if necessary, he would be willing to go into a biosecure hub in New Zealand for a few weeks to get the competition underway.
“I think fans will be keen to see us test ourselves against traditionally the best country in the world,” Toomua told Australian Associated Press.
“It’s my personal view we should be doing everything we can to make that go ahead and if that includes us being on the road for a little while, than that’s something we will do.”
The Wellington Phoenix soccer club and New Zealand Warriors rugby league side, which both participate in otherwise Australian leagues, said they would remain in Australia for now but look to host some proper home matches this season.
“Today’s announcement of a travel bubble is cause for excitement but it doesn’t immediately affect our plans,” Warriors chief executive Cameron George said.
“We need to be absolutely sure we will be able to travel to and from Australia with confidence to ensure our place in the competition isn’t jeopardised.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)