Aussie Super Rugby eyes early July return

The COVID-19 shutdown has intensified financial strains on Rugby Australia

Australia’s Super Rugby competition is planning for an early July return, a spokesman said Saturday, after the coronavirus outbreak derailed the season and sparked turmoil within the sport’s cash-strapped governing body.

Rugby Australia’s board suffered another tumultuous week with new director Peter Wiggs — who had been tipped to take over the chairman’s role — quitting after just five weeks in the job.

His departure followed the resignation last month of chief executive Raelene Castle after pressure from the board and a simmering financial crisis.

Clubs are set to begin training in the coming days under strict health regulations aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 among players, a spokesman said on Saturday.

“We do not have a confirmed date for the resumption of Super Rugby in Australia, however early July presents a best case scenario,” he added.

This year’s Super Rugby competition saw seven rounds played before the pandemic forced a stop to the season in March.

The modified domestic fixture will not include matches against international opponents but will reportedly see the return of the Perth-based Western Force, which left the top flight competition in 2017.

New Zealand has also announced its own domestic competition for its five teams playing over 10 rounds in closed stadiums.

The COVID-19 shutdown has intensified financial strains on Rugby Australia, which was already struggling after reaching a multi-million dollar settlement with star try-scorer Israel Folau over his sacking for homophobic comments.

It reported a provisional Aus$9.4 million ($6 million) operating deficit last year and has laid off 75 percent of staff to cut costs during the coronavirus emergency.

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