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(Reuters) - Fiji coach Vern Cotter has said his team did not wear jerseys with a COVID-19 vaccination message in Saturday's 57-23 defeat by New Zealand in Dunedin because the idea had been sprung on the players late with little consultation.
News website Stuff reported the team was supposed to wear jerseys with the message "Vaccinate Fiji" in the clash, with the idea coming from one of their main sponsors, Fiji Airways.
"That's a really complex question, and the answer is complex as well," New Zealand's Cotter was quoted as saying by Stuff when asked why the team abandoned the plan.
"We really haven't got the full answer. It was sprung on the players quite late in the piece, and there wasn't a lot of exchange and consultation.
"As you can imagine, it's a delicate subject for some, so it was probably better to just have a clean jersey at this stage, and spend some time on how we best want to communicate on this matter and how comfortable the players are in communicating it."
A spokesman for Fiji Airways said that the decision was disappointing, Stuff reported.
"We had given up our (advertising) space (on the jersey) to push an important, life-saving message to support the efforts of Fijian front-liners battling the current COVID outbreak," the spokesman was quoted as saying.
"We defer to Fiji Rugby to address the issue."
COVID-19 infections in Fiji have risen in recent weeks, with an average of 609 new infections reported each day according to a Reuters tally. The South Pacific island nation of less than 900,000 people has recorded over 9,500 cases and 49 novel coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
Fiji will take on the All Blacks again in Hamilton next Saturday.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)