Mark Robinson has confirmed New Zealand Rugby is working with the Government to host the Rugby Championship through November and December, but playing Bledisloe Cup fixtures in Australia remains up for discussion.
Sanzaar announced earlier today that the four-team Rugby Championship would be held in New Zealand later this year, provided the Government approve travel exemptions and quarantine measures, and the Covid-19 situation here does not deteriorate.
Despite South Africa, where there are 311,000 Covid-19 cases, and Argentina (111,000 cases) being yet to resume any domestic rugby, NZ Rugby chief executive Robinson suggested New Zealand hosting a six-week Rugby Championship from early November to mid-December was feasible and that all four nations were on board.
“It’s very positive news for rugby in New Zealand. It’s a significant opportunity for the game here and the entire country which we’re excited about and eager to begin work with the Government to see what we can make happen,” Robinson said.
“Our thoughts go out to our joint venture countries in South Africa, Argentina and Australia about the challenges they’re working through and if we are to get this tournament off the ground in New Zealand the great lengths they’ll have to go to with their players and families and administrators to make this happen.
While the rugby schedule remains fluid the North against South fixture is locked in for August 29 at Eden Park. All Blacks coach Ian Foster will name his first squad the following day, and the first Bledisloe Cup test had been pencilled in for October 10 in Wellington.
The Mitre 10 Cup season is also scheduled to run from September 11 until November 28.
The plan was to stage two Bledisloe matches in New Zealand and two in Australia – Sydney and Brisbane – but with the Covid-19 situation rapidly deteriorating in Victoria and New South Wales that may not be possible. Logistically, it would be much easier to stage all Bledisloe matches in New Zealand but Robinson indicated those discussions were ongoing.
“At the moment they’re signalling they would like to host two Bledisloe matches but it’s a fairly fluid situation. We’re going to have to try and understand what that means if we do play in Australia in terms of getting back to New Zealand in terms of quarantine and then having to go into Rugby Championship with the timing and what that means and if it can be done. They’re still things it’s early days with.”
Robinson confirmed Sanzaar would pick up the bill for teams having to quarantine in New Zealand for two weeks but the details of where that might happen, and whether they could train at managed facilities as the Warriors did when they first arrived in Australia, were still being worked through with Government.
There is also the prospect that South Africa and Argentina may attempt to arrive in New Zealand early and play warm-up fixtures before the Rugby Championship begins.
“It seems they’re all in at the moment. Talking to the Argentinians and South Africans they’re very keen to make it work.
“Although it’s early days we’re looking at the prospect that they could come to New Zealand and then look to have games played here as part of their preparation. The timing of that, and how that might look, is yet to be determined but we’re wanting to work with them as much as possible to ensure they’ve got the best chance of success throughout the tournament.”
While New Zealand Rugby is likely to enjoy a welcome financial windfall from hosting the tournament for the first time, Robinson said gate takings would be split among the four nations.
“It’s probably too early to say what it might mean but it will be positive. We’ll be working towards a model where everyone who participates in the tournament has to benefit. The detail of all that hasn’t been worked through but it’s a joint venture partnership that we’re committed to and we want everyone to be as successful as possible.”
The timing of the proposed Rugby Championship effectively rules out the All Blacks facing any Northern Hemisphere opposition this calendar year.
“There’s various discussions around competition formats that are happening in the Northern Hemisphere. We’re still in regular contact with Six Nations and World Rugby about various possibilities there but the reality of what is currently being proposed is more realistic at the moment.”
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