Embattled Super Rugby debutants Moana Pasifika are refusing to reschedule their cancelled game against the Force, saying enough is enough after playing six games in three weeks this season.
In a move that could have major ramifications for the make-up of the top eight, Moana chief executive Pelenato Sakalia told the Herald he was in no rush to lock in a new date for the round 10 clash and pleaded for some clear air for his team.
Sakalia did not rule out pushing for a forfeit from the Force, which is used in the UK Premiership and in other sports.
He also hit out at the way the Western Force and Super Round organisers handled the Perth side’s COVID-19 outbreak, which resulted in the Friday afternoon game being cancelled while Moana were in the air on their way to Melbourne.
And he said competition administrators had a duty of care to Moana players to allow them to focus on their Australian games without the threat of a fourth so-called “storm week” hanging over them.
“Is it in the best interests of the competition for one team to be so disadvantaged that they are consigned to being a non-player in the competition?” Sakalia said. “Is it really in the best interests of our players to be having discussions about the postponed game, before we’ve even played the next game in our schedule?
“There is plenty of time in coming weeks for myself, SANZAAR, New Zealand Rugby and the Force to work through what are our options. Yes, rescheduling is an option people have put on the table.”
The Sekope Kepu-captained side has been disproportionately hit by COVID-19 postponements, playing a game on average every three-and-a-half days for a period against New Zealand sides.
Led by coach Aaron Mauger, they spent three weeks longer than any other side in the Queenstown bubble at the start of the season and gave a debut to 46 Super Rugby players in their first season of competition.
Super Round, where all 12 teams converged on Melbourne to mark the start of the trans-Tasman crossover portion of the competition, became their light at the end of the tunnel, Sakalia said.
Ranked last with one win from eight games, Moana nevertheless believed that with a full week’s preparation they were a better than even chance of picking off the weaker sides on the Australian part of the draw.
“We used the first part of the competition to build depth in our squad, to build on our game and improve our conditioning, so we could come into this phase to really see how we were placed,” Sakalia said.
“We were really excited to be able to travel and play Australian teams but, even more so, to get on to the field knowing they were in the same position as everyone else.”
Force and SANZAAR sources felt confident the game would be played but, with only five rounds left and both sides playing out their seasons in the other’s country, where and when are live questions.
The Force are in eighth spot but face a tough run to retain that place with games against the five New Zealand sides. If Moana can beat one or two of their Australian-based opponents, including the Fijian Drua, the postponed match will have a major bearing on the final composition of the top eight.
Force boss Tony Lewis defended the club’s response to a widespread outbreak, where 25 players, coaches and staff contracted the virus.
“We followed the protocols set out by SANZAAR and the medical advisory group, and we just didn’t have a team,” Lewis said. “We tried everything we possibly could – we had 10 Shute Shield players at one stage – but then we went down 25 players.
“The last thing we wanted to do was play a make-up game in New Zealand. If I had my time again I probably would have run direct to the chief executive, but we followed the protocols set up,” he said.