Chiefs come to party, host Blues, Crusaders in pre-season finale

The Chiefs have come to the party and will host both the Blues and Crusaders in a closed-doors ‘game of three halves’ in Cambridge on Saturday to round out a rescheduled Super Rugby Aotearoa pre-season.

The noon fixture (live on Sky Sport) will be played at Hautapu Sports in Cambridge and will be closed to the public – NZR level 2 operating protocols will apply due to the close proximity to Auckland and a desire to take maximum precautions ahead of next weekend's Super Rugby Aotearoa kickoff.

The Blues had been initially scheduled to host the Crusaders in a pre-season finale on Saturday, but had to cancel the match when the region went into a level 3 lockdown at midnight last Sunday. Their players only returned to team training on Thursday after being stuck at home on individual programmes through the first part of the week.

Both the Crusaders and Chiefs offered to host the Blues to wrap up preparations for the Super Rugby Aotearoa season after the change of alert levels announced on Wednesday.

It was decided the best bet was for the Crusaders to stick with their plan to fly north, but now head to Cambridge instead for a fixture expanded to include the Chiefs who were originally figuring on an internal hitout this weekend.

The first 'game of three halves’ in 2021 was played in Upper Hutt last Saturday between the Chiefs, Blues and Hurricanes.

The rejigged fixture presents as an ideal compromise, given the circumstances. The Blues and Crusaders both need another hitout ahead of their season kickoffs next weekend and it was a no-brainer for the Chiefs, who have a bye in week 1, to jump in on the action.

Chiefs CEO Michael Collins said it was decided to take the conservative approach and play under alert level 2 restrictions.

“Our primary focus is to provide opportunities that will best prepare the Chiefs squad for Super Rugby Aotearoa and also combat the many uncertainties that exist for us all,” he said. “Testing ourselves against the Blues and Crusaders provides that for us.

“We are compelled to err on the side of caution. Auckland is still in level 2, it’s a short drive down State Highway 1 to get here and we know this fixture would have attracted thousands of passionate fans if we sold tickets to the public.

“With the stadium unavailable and less than three days to turn this event around, we’ve decided to play it safe and prioritise fans attending matches when the season begins.”

Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said he had no hesitation accepting the rearranged fixture. “The situation the Blues were put in was bigger than rugby. We were happy to change our plans to help provide an opposition for both them and the Crusaders,” he said.

Blues coach Leon McDonald said it was a relief to have the final hitout in place.

”Things were not looking good for us as we have been unable to train as a team, so this is a real lifeline as we try to make up time before the start of the competition,” he said. "We are humbled by the support we have received from the clubs.”

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, likewise, was happy to tweak his plans for the final week of preparations.

“All clubs realise the importance of preparation leading in to the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa next week, so we are happy to head to the Waikato as it gives three teams the opportunity to have a pre-season hitout,” he said.

The Crusaders kick off Super Rugby Aotearoa next Friday with a visit to the Highlanders, while the Blues will meet the Hurricanes in the capital the following night.