Bay provides rugby refuge

Waikato’s Fletcher Smith training at Greerton Marist this week. Photo. John Borren.

Rugby unions from Northland and Waikato who have relocated to Tauranga in order to finish the Bunnings National Provincial Championship have moved to reassure Bay of Plenty residents that all Covid-19 protocols are being followed.

Both unions are currently based at separate hotels in central Tauranga, with a group of 44 making up the Northland contingent and 38 with Waikato.

New Zealand Rugby confirmed prior to last weekend that the two teams had both relocated to Tauranga.

The moves came hours before their respective regions headed into alert level three due to Covid-19 outbreaks.

Waikato made the move from Cambridge on Thursday, October 7, following positive cases in Karapiro and Kawhia.

Northland shifted to the Bay of Plenty last Friday night, after a positive case in Whangarei and the difficulties associated with contact tracing involved.

Northland Rugby CEO Cam Bell says they received no preferential treatment to secure their Tauranga relocation.

All players and relevant contacts have tested negative and had been in isolation pending testing results.

“Trust me,” says Bell, “we are very respectful and understanding of the opportunity to go to the Bay of Plenty.”

Like Northland, Waikato are appreciative of the Bay of Plenty hospitality which will allow them to continue this season’s competition.

“We are just pleased to have had the opportunity to stay in the campaign, within the rules and protocols,” says Waikato Rugby Union CEO Carl Moon, who confirmed the players have been training at Greerton Marist Rugby Club this week.

“As we know, things can change pretty quickly, so we’ll just stick to the rules, adapt as required, and hopefully we can get through to the end.”

Both teams are now preparing for their respective fixtures this weekend.

With confirmation of a full schedule, the 11 Provincial Unions teams outside of the Auckland region will play the remaining four weeks of round robin matches, with Premiership and Championship semi-finals and finals scheduled for the second and third weekend of November. Promotion and relegation has been scrapped for this season.
In addition to the scheduled round robin matches, there will be a non-competition match played each week featuring teams that would have otherwise played Auckland region teams.

The first non-competition match will see Tasman hosting Bay of Plenty this Sunday, October 17, at 2:05pm.
“We are grateful to be confirming the remainder of the Bunnings Warehouse NPC,” says Steve Lancaster, NZR general manager of Community Rugby. “The teams can continue to train and play with certainty.”

While fans and the rugby community will have six more weeks of provincial rugby to look forward to, Northland were scheduled to play Otago in Whangarei on Friday, October 15. The match will be relocated to Rotorua, for the same date and time.

Waikato was due to host Taranaki at the FMG Stadium this Saturday, pending Covid-19 alert level updates.


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