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O'Donnell trains with champions Crusaders

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CHANCE: Conan O’Donnell. Photo: Kenny Smith/Sportsfile

CHANCE: Conan O’Donnell. Photo: Kenny Smith/Sportsfile

CHANCE: Conan O’Donnell. Photo: Kenny Smith/Sportsfile

Irish prop Conan O'Donnell has trained with the Super Rugby champion Crusaders ahead of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, which kicks off on Saturday week.

The Sligo native, who left Connacht last year and played for the Hurricanes earlier this season as injury cover, has not yet secured a contract with the Otago franchise for the New Zealand only competition.

He trained with the Crusaders before the season in January, but they were not given permission to sign him by the local union so he headed south and lined out twice for the Highlanders in the now abandoned competition.

Contracted to Counties Manukau for the Mitre 10 Cup, he has remained in New Zealand and could yet see Super Rugby action this month. He could now link up with fellow Irish prop Oliver Jager at the Canterbury club, if they can find room for him in their squad.

New Zealand Rugby have announced a series of tweaks to the competition format that will see drawn games go to extra-time, with the first team to score a "golden try" the winner.

Players who receive a red card can be replaced after 20 minutes in an attempt to make sure that matches are not imbalanced by a moment of ill-discipline, while referees are being asked to crack down on illegality at the breakdown

Super Rugby Aotearoa is the first rugby competition to return across World Rugby and features the five New Zealand franchises.

The new-look competition kicks off on Saturday, June 13 when the Highlanders play the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, with the Blues playing the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Sunday June 14.

It is not yet known which broadcaster will carry the matches in Ireland.

And there is increased hope that they will be able to welcome fans to the stadiums given New Zealand's successful suppression of Covid-19, with Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge saying they may have a crowd when they host their first home match in week three.

"We definitely started thinking about crowds over the last few days but it's fair to say, prior to that we had no planning, it was planning simply without crowds basis," Mansbridge told the New Zealand Herald.

"We're starting to get the sense that if this trend continues, we could be in Level 1 and current Level 1 restrictions don't limit crowds.

"If it's as optimistic as what we're feeling in the community now and the messages that are coming from Government, then we need to be prepared for business as usual."

Fans are likely to have to provide increased information to clubs to facilitate contact tracing, while there would be some restrictions inside the ground.

"If you're going to sell a ticket to somebody you'll want to collect their name, address and phone number and email address," he said.