Moana Pasifika faces uncertainty over COVID-19 postponement

April 28, 2022 GMT
Izaia Perese of the Waratahs, right, in action during the Super Rugby Pacific Round 10 match between the Waikato Chiefs and the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2022. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)
Izaia Perese of the Waratahs, right, in action during the Super Rugby Pacific Round 10 match between the Waikato Chiefs and the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2022. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)
Izaia Perese of the Waratahs, right, in action during the Super Rugby Pacific Round 10 match between the Waikato Chiefs and the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2022. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)
Izaia Perese of the Waratahs, right, in action during the Super Rugby Pacific Round 10 match between the Waikato Chiefs and the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2022. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)
Izaia Perese of the Waratahs, right, in action during the Super Rugby Pacific Round 10 match between the Waikato Chiefs and the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2022. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Moana Pasifika faces an uncertain finish to its inaugural season in Super Rugby Pacific after its schedule was disrupted for the fourth time last weekend because of a postponement caused by COVID-19.

The Western Force were supposed to face Moana Pasifika during the “Super Round” in Melbourne which saw all Australia- and New Zealand-based team play at the same venue over three days. But the Force withdrew from the match because of a coronavirus outbreak which left ithe Perth-based franchise unable to field a competitive team.

Moana Pasifika has indicated reluctance to have the Force match rescheduled with only five rounds remaining in the regular season. The team has already faced two rounds in which it had to play three times within eight days to catch up on games which were previously postponed.

That stretched the team’s player resources and it is reluctant to have to face a compacted run of three matches at a critical stage in the season.

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The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Moana Pasifika has not ruled out calling for the Force to forfeit last weekend’s match.

Moana Pasifika chief executive Pelenato Sakalia criticized the way in which the postponement of the match was handled, saying his Auckland-based squad already was in the air on the way to Melbourne when the decision was made.

“Is it in the best interests of the competition for one team to be so disadvantaged that they are consigned to being a non-player in the competition?” Sakalia told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Is it really in the best interests of our players to be having discussions about the postponed game, before we’ve even played the next game in our schedule?”

Moana Pasifika remained in Melbourne for Saturday’s match against the Rebels.

Sakalia said there was time in the coming weeks for him, tournament organizer SANZAAR, New Zealand Rugby and the Force to work through the options, which still includes rescheduling the match.

Force head coach Tim Sampson has rejected criticism of his club.

“We tried everything to get that game to go ahead,” Sampson said. “Even within two hours of jumping on the bus to leave to the airport we were still going, but we had a couple of late scratchings which was unfortunate.

“It was up front in key positions. In the end we had one contracted front rower available to us out of the 10. We weren’t prepared to throw guys on the field who weren’t health-wise up to it.”

Meanwhile, the Fijian Drua are preparing for their first genuine home match of the season in Suva on Saturday against the Dunedin-based Highlanders.

The Fijian Drua have been based in Australia through their debut season so far because of COVID-19 border restrictions.

While there has been considerable excitement in Suva around the team’s homecoming, ticket sales have been sluggish in the Fijian capital.

Gold tickets are on sale for 150 Fiji dollars ($70) and silver tickets for F$75 ($35). The minimum ticket price is F$20 for adults and F$10 for children. The minimum wage in Fiji is F$2.32 ($1.07) per hour.

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Fijian Drua chief executive Brian Thorburn said he hoped ticket sales would pick before the match.

“I was informed on Tuesday night that less than 5,000 tickets have been sold,” Thorburn said. “We need 15,000 people at the ANZ Stadium on Saturday to cheer on the Drua side.”

New Zealand clubs won three of the four matches against Australian franchises in the first round of the cross-over Trans-Tasman portion of the competition last week. On Friday, the Queensland Reds host the Chiefs and Western Force is at home to the competition-leading Blues.

The New South Wales Waratahs host the Crusaders on Saturday and the Australian-conference leading Brumbies are at home Sunday against the Wellington-based Hurricanes.

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