Sunday's Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and the Crusaders has been cancelled following a change to coronavirus restrictions in Auckland.

The decision comes after the government in New Zealand confirmed Auckland will remain at stage three of the country's COVID-19 protocols for 12 days, while the rest of the nation is at stage two.

Consequently, the fixture – which was scheduled to be part of the final round of the competition at Eden Park – will be scored as a draw with both teams awarded two points.

The match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium will go ahead without fans in attendance, with the kick-off time brought forward by four hours to 3:05pm local time to meet rules on teams flying in and out of cities on the same day to limit public reaction.

Blues CEO Andrew Hore said: "10 weeks ago we never thought we'd even have a competition, let alone one with fans. 

"But instead we got nine weeks of incredible rugby, with three amazing home games and massive crowds. 

"While this news is disappointing, we need to take a step back and be grateful for what we got, what it meant to our players, our sponsors and, most importantly, to our fans."

Crusaders CEO Colin Mansbridge added: "Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa has been a fantastic display of unity and togetherness for all New Zealanders. 

"While it would have been fitting to finish our campaign in front of a full house at Eden Park, I think the rugby community can be incredibly proud of what we have collectively achieved over the last 10 weeks, and will understand that this decision has been made in the best interests of New Zealanders.

"On behalf of the Crusaders, I want to thank all of our fans for their incredible support throughout the 2020 season."

Chris Lendrum, New Zealand Rugby's general manager of professional Rugby and performance, said he understood the decision.

"It's fantastic that the Highlanders-Hurricanes game can go ahead as one final celebration of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa," he said.

"On the flipside, we're obviously disappointed that the Blues-Crusaders match is off, but we all understand and support the government's decision around this.

"Both teams have played outstanding rugby throughout the competition in front of packed crowds and, on behalf of New Zealand rugby, we want to thank all the fans for their support for not only those two teams, but all five of our Super teams. It's been incredible."

The Crusaders wrapped up the title last weekend after coming from behind to beat the Highlanders 32-22 at a sold-out Orangetheory Stadium. 

The Blues remain in the hunt for the Super Rugby Aotearoa title after claiming a hard-fought 32-21 victory over the Highlanders.

Sunday's bonus-point win at Forsyth-Barr Stadium moved the Blues to 22 points, just two points adrift of Super Rugby leaders the Crusaders with two rounds remaining.

The Blues produced a physically dominant performance to claim the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy for the first time since 2011 – a trophy awarded in memory of former Blues and Highlanders head coach Gordon Hunter who passed away from cancer in 2002.

Finlay Christie was a key contributor, scoring a try in each half to inspire the Blues away to the Highlanders in Dunedin.

The Blues raced to a 12-0 lead courtesy of tries from Akira Ioane and Christie before the Highlanders responded via Josh Ioane's penalty and an Ash Dixon try to cut the deficit to two points.

The Highlanders moved 13-12 ahead following a controversial review, which saw Blues prop Karl Tu'inukuafe's try overturned, instead penalised for being offside.

But the Highlanders' lead was short-lived as TJ Faiane scored straight after the restart to make it 17-13 in favour of the Blues, who proceeded to claim a 24-16 half-time advantage via Ioane's penalty and Ofa Tuungafasi's try.

Christie added his second try of the match just three minutes into the second half before Beauden Barrett's penalty gave the visiting Blues a 32-16 cushion.

The Highlanders rallied and saw Shannon Frizell cross over with four minutes remaining but that is as good as it got.

The Blues kept their Super Rugby Aotearoa title hopes alive after repelling the struggling Chiefs for a much-needed 21-17 victory on Sunday.

All Blacks star Beauden Barrett impressed in his first start at five-eighth as the Blues withstood a Chiefs challenge to emerge triumphant in Auckland.

Following back-to-back defeats, the Blues returned to winning ways in front of more than 33,000 fans at Eden Park – the Auckland team now only two points adrift of leaders the Crusaders after six games.

The Chiefs fell to a franchise record seventh consecutive loss after almost snatching a last-gasp victory away to the Blues, who prevailed thanks to some desperate defending and a relieving penalty.

It was a bruising encounter after tries from Matt Duffie and captain Patrick Tuipulotu helped the Blues to a 14-0 lead inside 15 minutes.

The Chiefs responded by dominating the remainder of the first half, but they only had Lachlan Boshier's try and seven points to show for it by the interval.

An early seven-pointer from Solomon Alaimalo levelled the game in the second half, and a Damian McKenzie penalty put the Chiefs ahead shortly after.

But the Blues regained the lead a quarter of an hour in when Finlay Christie crossed over as the hosts held on for their fourth win of the campaign.

Beauden Barrett's return to the Hurricanes did not go to plan as brother Jordie nailed a late conversion to sink the Blues 29-27 in a Super Rugby Aotearoa thriller.

The return of Beauden Barrett to Wellington dominated the pre-match narrative and he was beaten by Ngani Laumape for a superb opening score for the Canes.

New Zealand's star fly-half responded with the Blues' first try and Dalton Papali'I also crossed for the visitors, but 15 unanswered points – with Reed Prinsep and Dane Coles dotting down – had the Canes 22-15 ahead.

The momentum swung again as Akira Ioane and Kurt Eklund scored tries to put the Blues ahead going into the final 10 minutes.

However, the drama was not finished and Asafo Aumua went over out wide to leave Jordie Barrett a tough conversion attempt, which he brilliantly stuck through the posts to settle a breathless encounter.

The Canes are now third in the table having won three of their five matches, one place and one point behind the Blues.

The Crusaders maintained their 100 per cent Super Rugby Aotearoa record with a 26-15 victory over the Blues on Saturday.

Both sides came into the game at Orangetheory Stadium with three wins out of three and it was the Blues who suffered a first defeat.

Defending champions the Crusaders were 7-6 down at half-time in Christchurch, Mark Telea opening the scoring with a finish in the corner after being picked out by Otere Black, who added the extras.

Two Richie Mo'unga penalties were all Scott Robertson's side could muster in the first half and Rieko Ioane's try extended the Blues' lead after a penalty apiece for both sides.

The Crusaders clicked into gear to take the upper hand, though, Mitchell Drummond crossing following a powerful run down the left from George Bridge.

Will Jordan added another try late on and livewire fly-half Mo'unga finished with 16 points from the tee as the Crusaders moved six points clear of their opponents at the top of the table.

Dan Carter made his return to a rugby field in New Zealand on Saturday when he turned out for his childhood club.

The All Blacks legend, a two-time Rugby World Cup winner, played 80 minutes in front of a crowd of around 1,000 people as he helped Southbridge to a 54-14 win over West Melton.

Carter kicked six of his seven conversion attempts in his first appearance in his native country since 2015, the year he retired from international rugby.

The 38-year-old has signed with the Blues for their Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign but is yet to feature due to a lack of fitness.

"If anyone saw that game today, I'd say myself that I'm a bit rusty," Carter said after a match in which he played the full 80 minutes.

"It's good to make the first step to potentially playing again. I'm not sure if I could play at Super Rugby level just yet. You leave those kinds of decisions up to the coaches."

After the match, Carter uploaded a series of images and a video from the Southbridge dressing room.

"Love his footy," he wrote.

"Great day today playing with @southbridgerugby_footballclub thanks for having me."

Carter spent 12 years playing for the Crusaders, for whom he remains the top scorer, between 2003 and 2015.

However, his Blues debut could come against his old club in Christchurch next week.

"Whether I play or not, I'm not too worried," Carter added.

"I'll leave that decision to [coach] Leon [MacDonald] and the selectors up at the Blues."

All Blacks star Beauden Barrett has signed with Japanese side Suntory Sungoliath and will miss next year's Super Rugby season.

Barrett, 29, signed a four-year deal with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Blues in 2019, but will head to Japan in 2021 before returning for the international season.

The star playmaker will play under Kiwi coach Milton Haig, while England head coach Eddie Jones is a consultant for Suntory Sungoliath.

"For me it made sense to go next year and then have two years back with the Blues and hopefully the All Blacks in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup," Barrett said.

"My wife and I are excited to head to Japan next year. It is an appealing place for a young family and comparatively safe in health terms.

"The Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition has been an amazing experience. It's been brutal and demanding which is what you expect when New Zealand teams play each other.

"I'm loving every minute of it and having such big crowds turning out has been fantastic. I am loving the move to the Blues and we still have a job to do this season. It is an excellent environment with great coaching and an awesome bunch of dedicated players.

"While the excitement about heading to Japan will build closer to the time, I'll also be looking forward to being back later in 2021 and then into the 2022 Blues season."

All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have had similar agreements to play in Japan this year.

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said he was planning for next year without Barrett.

"Our focus is fully on the current campaign but we have plans for next year without Beaudy," he said.

"He will be a big loss but that is countered with what he is doing on and off the field this year, and that we get him for two more years.

"We have Otere Black playing terrific rugby, and Harry Plummer who has been coming off the bench, while we will have Stephen Perofeta back next season from injury."

The Highlanders were unable to snatch another late win in Super Rugby Aotearoa as the Blues held on for a nail-biting 27-24 victory at Eden Park on Saturday.

Bryn Gatland's late drop goal had seen the Highlanders defeat the Chiefs, coached by his dad Warren, in their opening fixture but, following a bye week, they were unable to repeat the feat in Auckland.

Mitchell Hunt missed a 73rd-minute penalty and then a drop goal as he failed to tie things up for Aaron Mauger's side, who could not make the most of late pressure in the Blues' 22.

Tries arrived in the opening 11 minutes from the Blues' Caleb Clarke, whose grandfather passed away hours prior to kick-off, and the Highlanders' Ash Dixon.

Scott Gregory's kick was then charged down by Hoskins Sotutu and Dalton Papalii took advantage to cross.

Rieko Ioane made it 22-10 to the Blues before half-time but the same player was sent to the sin bin after the break for an offside infringement. Shannon Frizell added to an impressive try from Hunt to give the Highlanders the lead.

Papalii put the hosts back in front in the 58th minute and Hunt's late miss from the tee spared James Parsons' blushes after he lost the ball while attempting to dive over the ruck to score.

The Blues held firm with some excellent defence, particularly from Sotutu at a late Highlanders line-out, to ensure they retained their 100 per cent record.

Beauden Barrett helped the Blues shift through the gears and shake off the Chiefs in a 24-12 Super Rugby Aotearoa triumph - their first in Hamilton since 2011.

The Blues scored the only try of the first half, Hoskins Sotutu burrowing over after his fellow forwards laid siege to the Chiefs line.

That score was largely against the run of the opening 40 minutes, with Damian McKenzie's unerring boot keeping the Chiefs in touch as their opponents' penalty count mounted.

Goalkicker Otere Black made way for the Blues after the hour, allowing Barrett to move forward to fly-half.

The switch paid instant dividends as the All Blacks superstar landed a 64th-minute drop goal. Five minutes later, his penalty opened up a seven-point advantage.

The Blues did not look back from that point and Mark Telea finished brilliantly in the corner to make the game safe.

Barrett was unable to add the extras from the touchline but his influence had already proved decisive in securing a franchise record fifth consecutive win away from home.

Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu has signed a new deal with New Zealand Rugby until the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

It was announced on Monday that the New Zealand lock has agreed terms on the back of the Blues' 30-20 victory over the Hurricanes at a packed Eden Park on the opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The 27-year-old has won 30 caps for the All Blacks and played 74 times for Auckland franchise the Blues since making his debut in 2014.

"I am pleased to continue to play for New Zealand Rugby and the Blues until 2023 and I'm excited about the future," said Tuipulotu.

"During the [coronavirus] lockdown I realised more than ever how much I love this game and love playing for the Blues. We are beginning to develop into a really good side and it is an honour to lead them.

"I am still young and learning all the time, and I want to establish myself as an international player."

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said: "This is fantastic news for New Zealand Rugby and the Blues.

"Patrick has grown considerably over the last few years, both on the field as a player and off field with his captaincy and leadership.

"The fact that he has re-signed through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup is a sign of not only NZ Rugby's commitment to him, but also Patty's desire to achieve his own goals in New Zealand over the next few years.

"We congratulate him on making that commitment."

Beauden Barrett revelled in a "celebration of rugby" as he made a winning start to his Blues career against his former team the Hurricanes at a packed Eden Park on Sunday.

Barrett had a long time to wait for his Blues bow, but the two-time World Rugby player of the year started at full-back in a 30-20 triumph over the franchise he left to move to Auckland.

A sell-out crowd of 43,000 in New Zealand witnessed the eagerly-awaited match on the first weekend of the Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Barrett was relieved to make his first appearance for Leon MacDonald's side in a tournament that was arranged after the regular Super Rugby season could not be completed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "It's good to get it done and out of the way.

"Obviously there was that emotional hurdle to get over playing against all my mates, as well as starting a new chapter in my career. Very proud of the start and the effort from our boys tonight."

He added: "It was about rugby being back and about everyone coming together to support this team… just a celebration of rugby.

"It's fantastic to be back playing and to see the support. We were absolutely blown away by the support. Hopefully we can get that again when we're back in a couple of weeks."

Barrett managed to see the funny side when his former team-mates got him in the middle of their celebrations for a Dan Coles try, which he could not prevent with a saving tackle.

"That just happened in slow motion," a laughing Barrett said.

"It was almost like it was meant to be, so fair play to him. He's [Coles] pretty good in the wide channels, so a guy like him should be able to finish against someone like me."

Tries from Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane and Dalton Papali'i and 15 points from the boot of Otere Black proved enough for the Blues to secure victory.

The Blues powered to a 30-20 win over the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Aotearoa at a sold-out Eden Park on Sunday.

Even without All Blacks great Dan Carter, the Blues got off to a winning start as the New Zealand domestic competition continued amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Otere Black contributed 15 points with the boot for the Blues, who like their opponents crossed for three tries.

Caleb Clarke went over early for the Blues before Dane Coles responded in the corner, only for TJ Faiane – converted by Black – to send the hosts into a 14-8 lead.

The Hurricanes went into half-time trailing 14-13 thanks to a try from Ben Lam, but the Blues – with Beauden Barrett making his debut for the team against his former side – dominated the second half.

After Dalton Papalii extended the Blues' lead, the boot of Black pushed them into a 30-13 advantage as they scored 16 unanswered points.

Jamie Booth went over late for the Hurricanes, but the Blues had sealed their win by that stage.

A sell-out crowd will be in attendance for the Blues' Super Rugby Aotearoa opener against the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday.

The Blues announced on Saturday that they had sold 43,000 tickets – the capacity for the crowd in Auckland – after New Zealand lifted coronavirus restrictions this week.

Restrictions on mass gathering and social-distancing measures ended from midnight Monday, with no limit on crowd numbers at stadiums.

The 10-week domestic version of Super Rugby, which is taking place in lieu of the proper competition that was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will get underway when the Highlanders face the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.

And a capacity crowd will be in the stands for the Blues' return to Eden Park for the visit of the Hurricanes.

Blues chief executive Andrew Hore said: "It was only a few weeks ago that we were planning for a competition behind closed doors. When we got the news during the week that fans could come, we always wanted to do our part in terms of ticket pricing because we know that many of our fans have been doing it hard.

"I want to recognise the mammoth job from everyone involved in being able to turn an event of this size around in less than a week.

"This will be a special occasion that everyone will remember and a celebration of what New Zealand has achieved as a nation to get to this stage.

"The key now is for everyone to understand that this is a huge crowd, so please leave plenty of time to get to and from the stadium because we be undertaking contact tracing. Please check the AT site for your travel information and remember to be patient."

Dan Carter must wait for his Blues debut after missing out on the squad to face the Hurricanes – but Beauden Barrett says the All Blacks great is already making a huge impact.

At the age of 38, Carter has been tempted back into Super Rugby by the Auckland-based Blues.

Their apparent marriage of convenience came about as Carter was living close to the Blues' training headquarters, with rugby union's all-time highest international points scorer looking for a challenge.

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has suggested Carter will have an important role in helping to mentor the emerging generation, but he may also contribute on the pitch.

Former Crusaders star Carter is working on his sharpness and could be involved in first XV duties in the coming weeks.

Ahead of the team's Eden Park opener on Sunday in the Super Rugby Aotearoa, Barrett told radio station Newstalk ZB: "He's been such a steady and experienced voice.

"The first day I was training out there, I was training alongside him and he was giving me instant feedback which is so good. It's what I need to get better. It's what we all need to get better."

Barrett is a two-time world player of the year, while Carter has taken that award three times, and although both operate at fly-half by trade, McDonald could find space for the duo in his team in future weeks.

Crowds are being allowed into stadiums for the tournament, which is being limited to New Zealand teams, with over 34,000 tickets sold for the clash in Auckland.

Carter might put more numbers on the gate once he makes his entrance later in the competition.

"He's still a few weeks away from being match fit," Barrett said. "But just his presence, his experience. He's almost a player-coach."

Dan Carter is kicking into touch the perception that rugby players should be finished by their mid-thirties, according to former Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip.

Veteran superstar Carter has agreed to join the Blues ahead of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, with the Auckland-based side hoping some of his magic rubs off on their young players.

At the age of 38, Carter is unlikely to start every game, but the Blues seem bound to benefit from having international rugby union's record points-scorer in their ranks.

The former Crusaders fly-half is back in New Zealand after spells with Perpignan, Racing 92 and Kobelco Steelers.

"It's great and long may it last," Heaslip told Stats Perform News.

"There used to be a thinking that when you hit a certain age your value went down and you couldn't add value to a team. Teams would punish you for that in terms of contract negotiations.

"You can have guys for whom age is just a number because people are taking care of themselves a lot more at an earlier stage.

"It's great to see people like Dan who are challenging that perception because it is only a perception.

"And I think hopefully it will give power back to players for longer in their career. It's inspiring for blokes to see a guy who's kicking on and still doing it, not necessarily at international level but it's not far off it, and he's going to be playing with lads who are current internationals."

Heaslip is frustrated he is not playing at the age of 36, with a back injury having finished his career two years ago.

He had expected to still be in action, so to see the likes of All Blacks great Carter competing is satisfying to the former number eight.

"I just love people who tear down what the perception is. I hate when people say, 'That's what should happen' – it's not what could happen. They're two very different things and Dan has shown what can happen."

The return of Super Rugby, albeit in a five-team domestic version of the competition in New Zealand for now, is set to prove a popular addition to the slowly growing sporting calendar.

The coronavirus crisis has affected sport globally, but slowly leagues are starting up again, and Heaslip is raring to see Super Rugby get under way.

Crowds will be allowed too, with large attendances expected for the opening round of games.

The Blues, possibly featuring Carter, start against the Hurricanes on Sunday.

"To be honest, everybody's going to be watching it," Heaslip said. "I've never watched a lot of Super Rugby in my past, but I tell you what, I'll be watching what's going on this weekend just to see something live.

"Sorry, I can't watch repeat games. I know the results. I'm like that with movies or TV series – I know what's going to happen so why would I bother?

"There’s going to be a lot of interest around it and it's great to see."

He predicted it would help leagues around the world look at how they can return to some semblance of normality.

"It's exciting because maybe it gets everyone thinking here, 'Okay, that's something we can reach for'," Heaslip said.

"We might not be getting the international game and we might not be able to play outside our country, but what can we do in Ireland, in England, in Scotland, in Wales, in France?

"Talking to [Ireland prop] Cian Healy recently, a lot of them are keen to get going.

"For a while it was good that they got the break – a lot of them thought it was good, especially the international players who've played a lot of rugby with not a whole lot of rest, but they're over that now. Now they realise the importance for the game itself of getting people playing."

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