No exemptions given for Auckland players to travel to Wellington for North vs South match

Players based in Auckland might not be able to take part in the North vs South clash after the Health Minister confirmed he hasn’t given any exemptions for them to link up with their teammates in Wellington.

The inter-island match is scheduled to take place next Saturday at Eden Park, but the feasibility of the match being hosted in Auckland has been shrouded in uncertainty as the city will remain in level three lockdown until three days before the fixture.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has subsequently been preparing for a contingency plan, outlining earlier this week that they were hopeful the match could still be played in Auckland but were preparing for it to be played in Wellington on the same day.

The squads, which were announced on Tuesday, are scheduled to assemble in the capital on Monday.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said he hasn’t received any requests for the 13 Auckland-based players to be given special clearance to leave the region.

He added that no exemptions have been given for those players to assemble in Wellington with the North and South squads, casting doubt over whether those players will be available to take part in the match.

Hipkins also said that neither he nor Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield have been involved in discussions about decisions surrounding those players’ availability, but noted he would expect to be if those talks did take place.

He its unlikely exemptions would be granted for players to leave Auckland given that MPs are not travelling to Wellington for parliament sitting.

NZR announced on Monday it would seek government approval through the Government’s normal exemption process to allow the 13 Blues players – Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Hoskins Sotutu, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Caleb Clarke, Mark Telea, Alex Hodgman and Finlay Christie – to leave Auckland.

The Highlanders and Hurricanes, meanwhile, played in what proved to be the last match of the competition in front of no crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium under level two restrictions in Dunedin, with the hosts running out 38-21 victors.