Highlanders CEO Roger Clark is already dusting off Plans A, B, C and D for the pre-season game in Central Otago on Friday.
The Highlanders pre-season fixture against the Hurricanes in Alexandra on Friday is no guarantee to go ahead as Covid-19 threatens to cause havoc to the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark fronted a media conference on Monday after Auckland entered alert Level 3 while the rest of country went to Level 2, and he admitted the latest Covid-19 outbreak had put the club’s best-laid plans into a spin.
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Aaron Smith and Ash Dixon are set to get some game time on Friday if the Hurricanes fixture goes ahead.
Like the rest of the country we’re waiting for the Prime Ministers update at 4pm, he said.
But obviously we’ve been working through with New Zealand Rugby and the Hurricanes, just looking at what Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and even Plan D for Friday.
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If the rest of Aotearoa remains at Level 2, no supporters would be allowed to attend a fixture in the Central Otago that is expected to draw a crowd of between 6000-8000.
A Level 2 setting would also prevent the Highlanders from undertaking any promotional activities in the region the day before game, and Clark also indicated that the complexities of getting both squads to Alexandra and back on the same day from Dunedin and Wellington, respectively, would also weigh on the final decision.
The game is scheduled to kick off at 6pm, which means the Hurricanes would be hard pressed to fly from the capital and back on the same day.
Having a crowd is only one of the things weve got to consider, Clark said.
There are a whole lot of other things we’ll have to consider.
…They [the Hurricanes] were coming in the day of the game and going out the next day, but if we stay at Level 2 part of the New Zealand Rugby protocols is that they have to travel in and out on the same day as the game, and well do the same.
…just like the rest of the country we’ll be waiting to find out whether we are at Level 2 or Level 1. If we are at Level 1 we can have a crowd and at Level 2 we can’t.
Until we get to Wednesday [we won’t know] and well make sure we’ve got contingencies in place for each of those levels.
The loss of the game would be a blow for the Central Otago town, with Clark revealing that the corporate allocation of tickets had already been snapped up.
The Highlanders played the Waratahs in front of a big crowd in Alexandra in 2019.
We’re up to about 1500-1600 [presale] tickets which for a preseason is unusual.
We don’t usually sell that many for a pre-season game.
We’d look to have anywhere between 6000-800 up there but most of them are roll ins, based on the last time we played [in 2019].
The corporate areas are already sold out, I think there is about 800 people in those.
Still, Clark said the Highlanders’ and Hurricanes coaches were keen to play on Friday to welcome back their All Blacks who can play for 40 minutes this weekend and build combinations.
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said that Super Rugby teams had to adhere to stricter travel guidelines at alert Level 2.
From a rugby perspective the coaches always want to play, because they are all gaining momentum and there is a plan for integrating players, Clark said.
As you know there are All Blacks on both teams and we’ve got a lot of injured players who could have played at the weekend but they didn’t because they knew they had this game.
From a high-performance perspective they definitely want to play the game, both sets of coaches.
I talked to ‘Av [CEO Avan Lee] from the Hurricanes this morning and they are in the same position as us.
The Highlanders are due to kick-off Super Rugby Aotearoa against the Crusaders on February 26, and the potential loss of supporters for that game if Dunedin remains at Level 2 is already causing some angst.
It’s definitely something that floated past my mind when I got the [Covid-19] text on my phone, said Clark, who has repeatedly said in the past year that Super Rugby clubs need a minimum of six home games a year just to survive.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders have received some bad news on the injury front, with their Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley suffering a high-ankle sprain late last week.
Ainsley, a new recruit from the Melbourne Rebels, is set to miss the Super Rugby Aotearoa season, assistant coach Clark Dermody said on Monday.
Loosehead prop Ayden Johnstone is also unavailable as he recovers from a concussion he picked up while training for the North v South game last year.
Johnstone missed the entire Mitre 10 Cup campaign for Waikato and no definitive time frame has been put on his return.