The Blues players are having to train from their homes under level three restrictions as they face the prospect of heading into the Super Rugby Aotearoa season next week without a recent hit-out.
Yesterday the Blues made the decision to cancel their pre-season match against the Crusaders this Saturday with Auckland placed under level three until midnight Wednesday.
The match was scheduled to take place at Eden Park, and was set to be part of a "Footy Fest", which has been planned since the final game of the 2020 Super season between the Blues and Crusaders was cancelled – also after Auckland moved into a level 3 lockdown.
Blues CEO Andrew Hore said today he was comfortable making the call early and plans were ongoing to reschedule a pre-season game, if Auckland moves out of level three. The side's season opener is against the Hurricanes in Wellington on February 27.
"Basically it was days and days of work to prepare for an event what we had planned. Which was more than a rugby game. It was a festival so there was a lot of stakeholders involved…there was so much going to happen that we felt that leaving it to Thursday to make a decision was just too late," Hore said.
Hore said they also had to consider if Auckland comes out of level three by the weekend.
"What we learnt from last time was making calls earlier rather than later actually helped us a lot. We decided to take all the variables into account and make a decision relatively quickly."
Hore said the priority was sorting out a new pre-season fixture.
"We're looking at all options at the moment. At the moment we're in level three and we can't even assemble. Level two there protocols previously we can move to and we can play without a crowd. Our number one priority right now is getting a fixture in place.
"Level two means a team can come to us or we can go to them. All options are being explored at this moment including a midweek game."
Hore said it was disappointing not to match the Blues up against the defending champion Crusaders this weekend but one option would be to travel to Christchurch, quipping they'd even play them on a beach if they could.
Hore confirmed under level three restrictions, the squad members were unable to train together. He said if level three went on longer it could impact the start of the season with players having little physical training in the lead-up to the opening match.
"All of the players have been provided with a programme they've got to do from home. Our biggest concern is getting into this time of the year, you actually need the boys training together. It's a team sport at the end of the day and team cohesion is important.
"We've got a very limited time to get ready to go and play the Hurricanes away in round one...my gut instinct is if we're left longer than a week, we've got to seriously consider what we actually do."
"The concerning part of this is the level of contact that these players often need to build them into the rigours of a tournament such as Super Rugby Aotearoa. For us, realistically these three days are challenging, a week would even be more so," the Blues boss said.
The Blues have a bye week in round two. If they feel they haven't had adequate preparation to the first game, one option could be swapping that bye week with the Chiefs who open the season with a bye.
Hore added that conversations with New Zealand Rugby last week confirmed plans for an added third round of Super Rugby Aotearoa if Australian teams couldn't travel to New Zealand for the trans-Tasman competition set to begin in May.
Hore said the financial implications of cancelling Saturday's event were 'quite significant' and said he felt for "some three thousand workers at Eden Park impacted".
The Blues will reach out to members and ticketholders impacted by the cancellation in the coming days.
text by Cameron McMillan, NZ Herald