New Zealand rugby fans triumphantly led the world as they returned to stadiums three months after the lockdown.
Three months after the sport’s professional tournaments were shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, the capacity crowd packed the Forsyth Barr Stadium to welcome back the return of professional rugby in New Zealand.
22,000 supporters attended, it was a small crowd but momentous for New Zealand and for rugby as fans returned to stadiums without any limitation for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak sent countries around the world into lockdown in March.
Almost 20,000 tickets had been sold before the opening match in Super Rugby Aotearoa between the local Highlanders and the Hamilton-based Chiefs, and walk-ups filled the stadium to its capacity of 22,800 before the kickoff.
University students in the South Island college town were pressed shoulder to shoulder in the enclosure reserved for them and locally known as The Zoo. There were no restrictions on physical contact. Fans could hug, high-five, congregate in groups before and after the match and fill public transport without wearing masks or social distancing.
The five-nation Super Rugby tournament, involving teams from Australia, Argentina, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa, was abandoned in March when restrictions on international travel and quarantine requirements made it untenable.