Rugby-NZR move North-South game to Wellington due to COVID-19 restrictions

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said on Wednesday it had moved the delayed North-South match to Wellington due to uncertainty over Auckland's status with the city on lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The match was originally scheduled for Aug. 29 at Eden Park but was pushed back by a week when the government imposed a lockdown in Auckland, and social distancing measures for the rest of the country, after a new outbreak.

Wellington Regional Stadium had been listed as an alternative venue for the Sept. 5 match between composite sides representing the country's two main islands.

The government extended the lockdown until Sunday and the restrictions on crowd sizes for the entire country until at least Sept. 6.

However, the restrictions on Auckland will be relaxed only incrementally next week as health officials monitor the extent of the outbreak.

"There was still an element of uncertainty over Auckland's status," NZR's head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday.

"It was time to make concrete plans and Wellington was the best option from that perspective."

Lendrum said there was a feeling the rugby public were keen to see the match, which was last played in 2012, though no fans will be able to attend next month.

"It's a preeminent fixture on the calendar at the moment," he said.

Lendrum said last week it could cost NZR upwards of NZ$1 million ($655,800) if the game was not played but he added on Wednesday that broadcasters Sky Television had not "put their foot down" that it go ahead.

"It was not like that," he said.

"The conversations with a key partner like Sky have been very collaborative, they have been great support all year and have been around this match as well."

($1 = 1.5249 New Zealand dollars)

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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