Can derbies save Super Rugby amid coronavirus pandemic?

Playing a succession of local derbies may be the only way Super Rugby is able to continue amid the coronavirus pandemic and avoid a potentially devastating financial loss that leaves SANZAAR on the brink of collapse.

The New Zealand Government's decision Saturday to enforce a 14-day self-isolation period for travellers or residents returning to the country due to the coronavirus effectively brought Super Rugby to a halt, before SANZAAR announced the competition's suspension for the "foreseeable future' later on Saturday night.

The remaining Round 7 games were completed apart from the Highlanders' match against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, the Kiwis were however unable to return to New Zealand before the midnight Sunday deadline and self-isolation period came into effect.

But the other four New Zealand franchises were at home - the Crusaders returning Sunday after their win over the Sunwolves 24 hours earlier - opening the door for those teams to play each other should SANZAAR pursue a derby-heavy schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Government enacted similar border measures to their New Zealand counterparts on Sunday. The nation's four teams had thankfully all played in Australia over the weekend so there were no issues in terms of border cut-offs, thus potentially allowing for derby matches to be played if or when Super Rugby resumes.

ESPN understands Rugby Australia officials were engaged in discussions on Sunday, though the governing body's Moore Park headquarters were later closed for "intensive cleaning", after two players from the Australia Sevens program had shown symptoms associated with the pandemic.

It is unknown whether a switch to a derby-heavy schedule was discussed, but given Rugby Australia's parlous financial position and their ongoing broadcast negotiations it is likely chief executive Raelene Castle and her board would be desperate to secure at least some rugby content if Australia isn't forced into a complete lockdown in the coming days or weeks.

Having smashed local rivals, the Waratahs, on Sunday afternoon, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said he was keen to keep the season going through derby fixtures. McKellar acknowledged the much bigger issue at play, but was hopeful his side' current 5-1 record wouldn't amount to nothing.

"Yes, we just want to play footy," McKellar said.

"We were supposed to be going to Auckland and that's not happening and then we've got the Reds, Melbourne, and we play the Tahs again.

"If we can get the conference games; it's a conference system so play your conference games and then see where things are at and then hopefully we can have a genuine finals series and the best play the best."

The idea has support in New Zealand, too, with Crusaders coach Scott Robertson calling on SANZAAR to get creative, his players already voicing their desire to face their fellow Kiwis at home.

"Be creative. If it is local NZ derbies, origin matches over the next few months and then we play the leader of the other conference, or if things kickoff and the borders are relaxed in a month's time, and we have a shorter version," Robertson told stuff.co.nz.

"Whatever the opportunity is, the leaders of SANZAAR have to make a good call on what they think is the right thing with all the broadcasters, sponsors and fans ... we were so looking forward to the next few weeks, these big derby matches are so important to us.

"The first thing the boys are saying, 'what happens, do we get another opportunity to play Kiwi teams again?'."

New Zealand Rugby Union Players' Association boss Rob Nichol meanwhile told stuff.co.nz that SANZAAR officials had already been investigating alternate competition models before the country's border restrictions had come into place.

"Those sorts of things [derbies] are realistic," Nichol told stuff.co.nz on Sunday. "The first thing is to get through the next few days.

"The indications are that the government will be meeting early this week and it is a pretty evolving situation.

"So, to think 16 days ahead and say, 'we're going to put these plans in place' is probably not the best thing to do right now.

"[But] there are ideas, and I know New Zealand Rugby and SANZAAR have been doing different modelling and different options for the last couple of weeks."

With the Sunwolves having been based in Australia for the last fortnight, the Australian conference could seemingly play out the remainder of their derby fixtures without hindrance while the 14-day isolation period was in place at the border.

The New Zealand conference could follow suit once the Highlanders squad had served their isolation period and providing there were no positive tests for the coronavirus, while the Lions and Bulls have both returned to South Africa after games against the Blues and Reds in New Zealand and Australia over the weekend respectively.

Just where that would leave Argentine franchise, the Jaguares, in a derby-intensive schedule is unknown. The Jaguares had only just returned from a three-week block of games in South Africa, leaving them with just the Lions to face in the Republic of their remaining away South African conference fixtures.

Given their place on the ladder, the Jaguares might not be so keen to adopt a Sunwolves-style permanent overseas base in South Africa and concede homeground advantage for matches with the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls.

Any changes to the Super Rugby schedule, or even a recommencement of the competition at all, will of course be subject to the actions of the respective governments that the SANZAAR alliance exists across.

But with SANZAAR chief Andy Marinos revealing that a suspension of Super Rugby four of five weeks would likely see the competition called off and leave the alliance on the brink of collapse, he and his fellow officials will be desperate to do whatever they can, within reason and good health, to resume the tournament.

As it stands, a succession of derby fixtures appears to be the only way to achieve that.