Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship in doubt as travel bubble paused
The upcoming Bledisloe Cup tests between the All Blacks and Wallabies, as well as the three Rugby Championship fixtures set to be hosted in New Zealand, have been thrown into serious doubt following the quarantine-free travel pause between NZ and Australia.
The New Zealand Government announced on Friday that the trans-Tasman travel bubble will be paused for at least eight weeks after a “devastating” spike in Covid-19 cases in Australia.
The bubble will pause from 11:59pm NZT on Friday night, but there will be managed return flights over the next seven days to allow New Zealand citizens and residents to come home.
Australia recorded 136 new community cases of the virus on Friday – its highest daily total since the latest outbreak began.
“Covid has changed, so we must,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in announcing the pause.
“There are now multiple outbreaks, and in differing stages of containment, that have forced three states into lockdown. The health risk to New Zealanders from these cases is increasing.”
The All Blacks and Wallabies are scheduled to play three successive tests in Auckland, Perth and Wellington between August 7 and August 21.
The chances of those tests going ahead as planned now appears highly unlikely, while the Rugby Championship, which coincides with the Bledisloe Cup and also features the Springboks and Los Pumas, is also in jeopardy.
The Rugby Championship is scheduled to be co-hosted in New Zealand and Australia – with the exception of the Springboks’ two tests against Los Pumas in South Africa – between August and October.
However, Ardern confirmed there was a chance for the Wallabies to travel to New Zealand in the seven-day return window – and provide an economic case for arrival in New Zealand – before quarantine-free travel between the two countries halts.
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“If there are significant economic issues that are brought up by the closure in that seven-day window that can be resolved then we have a delegated minister to work through any of those issues,” Ardern said.
“However, it must be in the seven-day window, we are not making exceptions outside of that. Everyone else has to go into quarantine.”
The Wallabies had planned to travel to Auckland next week ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup after assembling on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
The Black Ferns and Wallaroos are also scheduled to play matches which could be affected by the pausing of the travel bubble.
NZR, Rugby Australia and Sanzaar released statements on Friday afternoon to confirm that the organisations were all working together – alongside the NZ government – to come up with the best solution moving forward.
“We know the uncertainty this creates is challenging for our fans, players and partners, but remain committed to finding a path forward and continuing to deliver world-class rugby in 2021,” said NZR chief executive Mark Robinson.
“We are continuing to work closely with the New Zealand government to explore the option of bringing Australia across the Tasman for the two Bledisloe Cup Tests.
“As we have throughout the Covid-19 pandemic our decisions will continue to be guided by the advice of relevant Government and health authorities with the health and safety of our people at the forefront of any decisions. It’s important we evaluate all of our options before finalising any plans.”
Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos also confirmed that the Wallabies were already operating under strict guidelines due to the recent outbreak of Covid in Australia.
“The Wallabies team have been in a secure bubble since the conclusion of the France Series, with the squad assembled on the Gold Coast,” he said. “The players are regularly tested for Covid-19 and have maintained strict bio-security protocols as recommended by the Return To Play Committee and the relevant health authorities.”
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