Fans will be allowed into stadiums to watch the opening weekend of New Zealand's new domestic rugby union competition after the country lifted virtually all coronavirus restrictions.

New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the country would move to Level 1 restrictions from midnight after no new cases of Covid-19 were recorded for 17 days.

It means all restrictions on mass gatherings will be lifted ahead of the beginning of the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament this weekend.

The 2020 Super Rugby season - comprising teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa - was postponed in March due to the pandemic.

New Zealand and Australia have both set up tournaments featuring their Super Rugby teams, with the New Zealand version opening with a clash between the Highlanders and Chiefs on Saturday evening in Dunedin. 

Super Rugby Aotearoa, which involves New Zealand's five Super side, is the first professional rugby union competition to resume following the coronavirus outbreak.

There would be no restrictions on the size of crowds for the first weekend of matches at Otago Regional Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday and at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday, NZR added.

Much of the focus will be on Sunday's game in Auckland where All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett is expected to make his debut for the Blues when they host his former team, the Wellington Hurricanes, at Eden Park.

Barrett, who missed the initial stages of Super Rugby after taking an extended break following last year's World Cup, moved to the Blues after nine seasons with the Hurricanes.

He had been expected to make his Blues debut against the Hurricanes on 11 April before Super Rugby was postponed.

Meanwhile, with the Pro14 expected to be completed behind closed doors, Ulster have announced details of a refund scheme for ticket holders.

Season ticket holders will be entitled to a 20% 'account credit' while purchasers of tickets to individual cancelled matches will be able to claim a full refund. Game Pass holders - Ulster's half season ticket - will be entitled to a 50% account credit.

All claims must be made to the province by Tuesday 30 June.