All Blacks selector Grant Fox is preparing for the possibility of an 18-month season when domestic and international rugby returns to action following the global coronavirus lockdown.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the former All Blacks first-five confirmed that the coaches and selectors of the national side are beginning to view this elongated break to the 2020 campaign as a new “off-season”.
Super Rugby remains suspended after being brought to a halt three weeks ago following seven rounds of the regular season.
No date has been set for the competition’s return, while international tours from northern hemisphere sides travelling south of the equator in July have been put on hold.
Wales and Scotland were set to face the All Blacks across three test matches in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin in two months’ time, but those fixtures look increasingly unlikely to take place.
The Rugby Championship, which is due to kick-off in August, is the next competition in the firing line, adding to the uncertainty of rugby both domestically and internationally in New Zealand.
Fox said that a raft of alternative options are being considered by New Zealand Rugby as the economic implications of no scheduled rugby fixtures has the organisation staring down the barrel of a multi-million dollar loss in revenue.
“You could argue right now we’re in our off-season, because we’re not playing. We might consider this our summer, as we head into winter, and rugby gets played over next (Southern Hemisphere) summer,” the 1987 World Cup winner told Sky Sports.
“We could be impacted for the next 18 months, in terms of what a schedule would look like. We hope by 2021 there’s some form of normality, but it could mean that we’re playing rugby for a prolonged period of time.”
Discussions have been rife about what rugby will look like in New Zealand when it returns to the fold once travel and public gathering restrictions are relaxed.
A Kiwi-only Super Rugby competition – made up of the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders – has been among the discussed options, as has a provincial competition featuring all the country’s All Blacks.
“It would take just the five Super Rugby franchises, playing each other on a home and away basis, which means every week one team’s got a bye,” Fox said.
“Now the July international window is looking less and less likely, so there’s an argument you could just push into that and keep going.
“Hopefully that won’t affect our Mitre 10 Cup, which maybe becomes really beefed up with a whole lot of All Blacks playing.”
Other opportunities have been touted, with Chiefs and British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland recently suggesting the All Blacks face the Lions in a 2017 series-deciding clash ahead of their 2021 tour of South Africa.
French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte has even put forward the notion of a Club World Cup, made up of the top teams from Super Rugby, the English Premiership, the Top 14, the PRO14, the Top League and Major League Rugby.
One idea that has been popular both among fans and media is the revival of the once-annual North vs South clash between the nation’s North and South Islands.
The inter-island derby was first held in Wellington in 1897, and was played 78 times on an almost annual basis until 1986, with players selected based on what province they represented in the National Provincial Championship.
Since then, though, the fixture has only been played twice, with the 80th and most recent edition coming in 2012 when the match was held in Dunedin in a fundraising effort for the financially-embattled Otago Rugby Football Union.
With minimal rugby prospects on the horizon, an avenue for the reimplementation of the North vs South derby has opened up, with Fox highlighting the potential interest such a contest would bring.
“If the All Blacks don’t have the chance to play this year because there can be no international travel, then we’ve got to do something for the fans, the players, the sponsors, all the people that are intertwined in this,” the 57-year-old said.
“That’s just one of the ‘what if’ scenarios, and it might not be divided by the island where you play now, it might be where you went to school, or where you were born. Find a way to get the talent mixed up, and I think that game would create quite a bit of interest.
“A body as big as New Zealand Rugby is going to take a major haircut in income, and playing games is a big part of how they earn their money, like every rugby union around the world, so the sooner we can get back to some form of normality, the better.
“And if it means doing something completely different for 18 months, well, maybe that’s what we’ve got to do.”
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