* Super Rugby season in doubt due to NZ clampdown
* Otago Highlanders team likely to be quarantined on return home
* Governing body SANZAAR says assessing “full impact”
* (Adds details, byline)
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, March 14 (Reuters) - The Super Rugby competition has been thrown into turmoil midway through the season after New Zealand imposed fresh travel restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday that everyone entering the country from midnight Sunday must self-isolate for 14 days in an effort to contain the outbreak.
The directive effectively leaves the mainly southern hemisphere competition hamstrung after only six completed rounds, with any team entering New Zealand having to spend two weeks quarantined.
New Zealand teams would also be reluctant to travel for away matches against Australian, South African, Argentine and Japanese opposition as they would need to serve the quarantine period when they return home.
More than 138,000 people have been infected globally and over 5,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements.
Governing body SANZAAR said in a media release that it was reviewing the “full impact” of the decision but would not comment until its executive committee had determined “an appropriate course of action and all stakeholders (were) informed.”
With SANZAAR’s stakeholders spread from New Zealand to Argentina, a spokesman for the governing body said there would be no decision on the future of the competition on Saturday.
The travel restriction has immediate consequences for New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders, who are currently in Argentina to play the Jaguares in Buenos Aires later on Saturday.
New Zealand’s Otago Daily Times, citing Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark, said the match was going ahead but could be cancelled.
Even if the match was called off the team would unlikely be able to return before the restrictions go into force and would end up having to serve the quarantine period, which will have a knock-on effect for subsequent games.
A spokeswoman for New Zealand Rugby, one of SANZAAR’s partner rugby unions, told Reuters: “We’re working with SANZAAR on next steps.”
Rugby Australia, another SANZAAR partner, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
The travel clampdown has also forced the postponement of the New Zealand cricket team’s limited overs tour in Australia and the return tour in New Zealand.
The coronavirus pandemic has torn up the global sporting calendar, with infections and travel restrictions forcing the cancellation or postponement of a slew of major competitions and tournaments.
Editing by Peter Rutherford