New Zealand Rugby has confirmed the 'super round' of the inaugural transtasman competition, scheduled to pit the five New Zealand and five Australian teams against each other over one weekend in one city next month, will be scrapped this season.
NZ Rugby welcomed the news on Tuesday that a transtasman travel bubble from April 19 will pave the way for the six-week Super Rugby cross-over tournament to commence as planned from May 14, one week after the maiden Aotearoa competition final.
The transtasman competition was, however, scheduled to feature all teams based at one venue on the weekend of May 28.
NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum confirmed that concept will be a casualty of the Covid-19 climate, leaving some teams with an advantage of hosting one more home fixture than others.
"That's one thing we've run out of runway to do this year with the uncertainty it was too hard to contemplate basing ourselves all in one city," Lendrum said. "It's certainly a concept we want to explore in future when conditions around our competition are a little bit more settled.
"Of course there's more risk committing to one side of the Tasman for five games rather than one or two but there's a lot of additional planning required to go into that concept. At this point we haven't been able to advance that."
In these financially fraught times home fixtures are highly sought-after. Who hosts the round three fixtures between the Brumbies and Blues, Hurricanes and Force, Rebels and Highlanders, Reds and Chiefs, Waratahs and Crusaders is yet to be determined.
"We're going to have a scenario where some teams will have three home games and some teams will have two," Lendrum said.
"Commercially we're encouraging the clubs who are due to play each other that weekend to have a commercial discussion about how the proceeds of the game are shared, so trying to get some evenness through the competition."
While the two-way bubble is welcome news for sport, tourism and families seeking to reunite, the government has warned it comes with a flyer beware hitch that travellers could be trapped in either country in the event of another outbreak.
NZ Rugby will watch with interest in the coming weeks and make contingency planning for its teams should they be stuck in Australia for any length of time.
"We're hoping with the six-week tournament can go off without a hitch but we've learnt enough over the last 12 months to know that it might not," Lendrum said. "We have to plan for eventualities, for potential disruption.
"The beauty of the competition start date, which is still over a month away, is we get to see the bubble open and learn a lot over the first few weeks and that will inform our contingency planning."
The prospect of 25 cross-over matches will be a relief to New Zealand teams not enthused about the alternative of running themselves into the ground with a third round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Squaring off against the five Australian teams will instead offer a taste of next year's competition which is expected to welcome Moana Pasifika and the Fiji Drua to form a new 12-team league.
"For us this was always what we wanted," Lendrum said. "New Zealand teams haven't played Australian teams for 12 months now.
"There's two really strong Australian teams lurking on the other side in the Reds and Brumbies and our teams will be looking forward to testing themselves against them. There's plenty of potential in the other three teams too. We're looking at that competition going from strength to strength each week.
"I know our players are excited, the coaches will be excited by a different challenge. The opportunity to make not just one but two Super Rugby finals, it's all new."
Quarantine free travel between Australia and New Zealand will also change the complexion of discussions around the Rugby Championship hosting.
Australia hosted last year's revamped Tri Nations tournament, won by the All Blacks, after the Springboks pulled out at the 11th hour.
"When we come to talk to Sanzaar and our national union partners it's going to be really helpful by opening up both sides of the Tasman for hosting at a minimum."