A third Super Rugby Pacific game has had to be postponed in New Zealand, after an outbreak of COVID-19 struck the Hurricanes squad.
The Wellington-based franchise's Round 4 match with Moana Pasifika will have to be played later in the season as a result, meaning the expansion franchise now has three games to make up after earlier postponements of their clashes with the Blues and Chiefs.
It is understood more than 15 Hurricanes players have either contracted the virus or been deemed close contacts, leaving the team unable to safely fill a matchday 23 to face Moana.
"Every effort was made to play this match but despite looking at replacement player options the number of players affected by COVID was simply too great to overcome and the right decision has been reached," Chris Lendrum, NZR General Manager Professional Rugby & Performance, said.
"We are supporting the Hurricanes as much as we can as they deal with a large number of players being unavailable, while it is obviously disappointing for Moana Pasifika who were itching to play again after finally getting their season underway last week."
While the omicron wave swept through Australia's Super Rugby squads in January, New Zealand's tighter restrictions and border controls meant its five franchises and Moana Pasifika were able to navigate the preseason.
New Zealand Rugby even moved the entire playing cohort into a Queenstown bubble, only for an outbreak to occur in the Moana squad forcing the postponement of their first two Super Rugby Pacific matches.
With the Hurricanes now affected, NZR will be concerned that further outbreaks could occur across the Blues, Crusaders, Chiefs and Highlanders, placing added pressure on an already cramped fixture list.
Despite the obvious disappointment, Moana Pasifika chief executive Pelenato Sakalia supported the decision to postpone the game.
"Dealing with COVID is extremely complicated and it is important that the focus shifts to the health and well-being of the Hurricanes team," Sakalia said.
"Under the circumstances postponing the game is the right decision and Moana Pasifika wishes the Hurricanes team a speedy recovery and look forward to meeting on the field soon."