Unrestricted crowds have returned to New Zealand stadiums for the first Super Rugby Aotearoa games since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted last week.

On Sunday, Eden Park in Auckland welcomed a full house of 43,000 rugby fans in the largest crowd the Blues have hosted in 15 years in its win over the Wellington Hurricanes.

Meanwhile, 20,000 supporters flocked to see the Highlanders play the Chiefs on Saturday at the 30,748-capacity Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

The fans were not required to be socially distanced or wear masks, allowing the stadiums to run at full capacities for the first time in months.

Steve Armitage of ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development), said, according to TVNZ: “The ability to have a packed out stadium there today while other parts of the world, events are struggling to get up and running again, running in closed stadium – we’re in a unique position and it positions us well for event attraction in the future too.

“We’re certainly hearing through some of our event promoters and through direct contact from some large organisations and large events that are interested in seeing what might be possible.”

The New Zealand government announced last week that the country could safely move out of Alert Level 2, paving the way for fans to return to sporting fixtures without any restrictions.

Alert Level 1 allows New Zealanders to resume work, school, sports and domestic travel without any restrictions. New Zealanders are also free to meet up with as many people as they like.

Super Rugby Aotearoa has become the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return “en-masse” following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The revised competition kicked off this weekend after months of cancelled events and abandoned stands.

The Super Rugby Aotearoa is a 10-week competition involving New Zealand’s five Super Rugby clubs – the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders.

Image: Eden Park