The Hawke's Bay Magpies could be without some top players for the end of the extended Ranfurly Shield and NPC season because of commitments to overseas contracts.
But coach Mark Ozich – himself headed to Australia at the end of the competition for a position with Perth-based Western Force – says it's the same for everyone in a Bunnings Warehouse NPC that could be extended by five weeks or more into late November.
The extension comes as a result of the pandemic lockdown's postponement of four rounds of rugby in August-September, and the remaining matches of Auckland region sides Auckland, North Harbour and Counties Manukau, all still unable to train or play.
Legendary Magpies skipper Ash Dixon, bound for Japan, is among those heading abroad, but Ozich says there are at least a couple facing the problem of having a possible "small window" of time to meet the obligations of their contracts abroad, complicated by quarantine and other pandemic control issues.
At the other of the scale was fringe squad member, Jordan Thompson-Dunn, a 20-year-old who left a fortnight ago to play "major-league" rugby for Portugal side Benfica, Ozich saying all provincial and senior club sides now face the problem of promising players being lured overseas.
On Wednesday, the New Zealand Rugby Union confirmed only the next three weeks of Bunnings Warehouse NPC rugby.
The Magpies, as scheduled, will be away at the Sky Stadium (aka The Cake Tin) to play the Wellington Lions on Sunday, before a week off due the postponement of a match against Auckland.
It was to have been played at Eden Park on October 3.
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They'll then return to Napier's McLean Park for a Shield defence against 2019 and 2020 NPC champions and currently-unbeaten 2021 competition leaders Tasman.
By the end of the Tasman game, which was to have been the last game before the semifinals, the Magpies will still have five postponed matches to play – half of the season's programme.
NZR has made no call yet on the future of those games as it considers how to re-integrate the Auckland region sides within the ongoing pandemic crisis.
Ozich says that while the Tasman game looms as the biggest threat to the Magpies now one-year tenure of the Ranfurly Shield, it's always been "one game at a time" and the Tasman came hasn't "really been talked about" among the squad.
They'll have a couple of days off after the Wellington match before preparing for a match against a Tasman side likely to start TAB favourite despite having never won a Shield match.
NZR general manager community rugby Steve Lancaster says it's up to individual unions as to how they are able to meet the guidelines for safe staging of matches within level 2 guidelines, including limits on attendances which all but prevent any form of paying public.
The Hawke's Bay union has been praised for the arrangements which enabled about 1200 season ticket holders and sponsors representatives to be at McLean Park to be at last Sunday's Ranfurly Shield defence against Bay of Plenty at McLean Park – drawn at the end of 80 minutes and won by the Bay with a penalty goal in extra time, the first such result in the history of the Shield.