Supporters will be free to attend Super Rugby Aotearoa matches in the opening round after New Zealand lifted coronavirus restrictions.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden confirmed the country will shift to Alert Level One from midnight on Monday, ending restrictions on mass gathering and social-distancing measures.
The country has gone 17 consecutive days without new COVID-19 cases, having imposed strict lockdown measures to counter the highly infectious virus.
Now, Super Rugby Aotearoa will be the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return en-masse, with no limit on crowd numbers at stadiums.
The domestic version of Super Rugby, which is taking place in lieu of the proper competition that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, will get underway when the Highlanders face the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
The news you’ve been waiting for! Crowds will be welcome back at Investec #SuperRugby Aotearoa from round 1!
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) June 8, 2020
The Blues, meanwhile, will host the Hurricanes at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday.
“It is a testament to all New Zealanders that we are in a position to lift restrictions on mass gatherings and it’s a massive boost for Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa,” New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson said.
“We’re incredibly proud, and grateful, to be the first professional sports competition in the world to be in a position to have our teams play in front of their fans again.
“It’s going to be a very special and unique competition and it’s fitting that New Zealanders now have a chance to be part of it.”
Arden told reporters on Monday: “Our goal was to come out the other side as quickly and as safely as we could. To a place where our borders continue to be our first line of defense but all current rules and restrictions on businesses and services are essentially lifted… Today, 75 days later, we are ready.”
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said: “The world will be watching, and we will be ready to put on a show. Our players, coaches and staff have been working overtime to get Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa ready and to now be able to share the competition with our members and our fans will be a very special occasion.”
Meanwhile, Blues counterpart Andrew Hore added: “This is a great boost for the franchise and the region as a whole. It’s been a tough time for everyone over the past few months, so to be able to provide some rugby, some entertainment at a world class level and a day out for sports fans and families will be magic.”
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