Crowds allowed at NZ Super Rugby games

Daniel Gilhooly
Fans could be allowed to return to the stands to watch their teams in Super Rugby Aotearoa action

New Zealand's Super Rugby competition will kick off its opening round in front of crowds this weekend, generating further hype around the sport's return.

The NZ government announced its nationwide alert system would relax to "level one" at midnight on Monday, allowing mass gatherings to take place.

With no restrictions on crowd size, there is the possibility of sold-out grandstands when the Highlanders host the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday and the Blues face the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday in the first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa matches.

Already acknowledged as the first professional rugby competition to be staged in the COVID-19 era, the competition is very nearly the first in any sport to allow game-day supporters.

It was beaten by Vietnamese soccer, where the professional V.League welcomed fans for the first time last Friday.

NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson confirmed tickets would go on sale from Monday.

"It is a testament to all New Zealanders that we are in a position to lift restrictions on mass gatherings," Robinson said.

"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."

Kickoff times for the games have been shifted, making them more palatable for fans who are also on the verge of returning to playing community sport.

Games will start at 7.05pm on Saturday and 3.35pm on Sunday throughout the 10-week competition which involves the five Kiwi Super Rugby teams.

Teams will also be able to prepare normally rather than fly-in and out on match day, as had been planned.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said it would be an "honour" to host the first professional rugby game anywhere since the sporting world shut down in March.

He said fans would be encouraged to adhere to contract tracing methods.

"The world will be watching, and we will be ready to put on a show," he said.

"Our players, coaches and staff have been working overtime to get 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."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously said the government would work with stadiums to create a "COVID code" to ensure contact tracing was in place in case sports fans tested positive for the coronavirus.

The country has reached 17 successive days with no new cases of the virus detected and there are no active cases.