Aaron Smith of New Zealand leads the haka at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: HO/WORLD CUP RUGBY/GETTY IMAGES
Aaron Smith of New Zealand leads the haka at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: HO/WORLD CUP RUGBY/GETTY IMAGES

SA’s top rugby players look likely to lose at least two months to their New Zealand counterparts as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in that country.

SA rugby officials are hopeful for an August return-to-play scenario but may have to settle for September as the country tries to manage the pandemic.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has not just flattened the curve of the infection rate but has stopped it, according to their government’s latest statistics.

It means NZ Rugby can set in motion more aggressive return-to-play protocols that will allow their professional players to resume combat in the middle of June.

Australian rugby officials are keen to relaunch on July 4 with a five-team competition said to include the disbanded but now reassembled Western Force.

Starting in mid-June, the five New Zealand franchises will be playing each other at home and away over a 10-week period. There will be no spectators in the made-for-television series.

The Highlanders will host the Chiefs on June 13‚ with the Blues at home to the Hurricanes the next day. The matches are scheduled for afternoon kickoffs.

While professional sport in New Zealand is being treated in line with guidance on workplaces‚ from Thursday club sports in that country will be allowed to train and play subject to the combined number of players‚ coaches and officials not exceeding 10 people.

Club rugby in SA, however‚ is unlikely to return in 2020 because of Covid-19 restrictions.

New Zealand’s ability to get their players back onto the field by June should stand them in good stead should the Rugby Championship get the green light later in 2020.

Their players will have a two-month head-start on their SA counterparts, which will likely translate to the Kiwis being fitter and better drilled if the tournament sees the light of day.

SA Rugby officials have made representations to the government and are awaiting a response from various ministerial committees about what return-to-play protocols can be put in place.