Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos has responded to New Zealand Rugby’s complaint about the newly released Rugby Championship schedule.
Sanzaar and hosts Rugby Australia announced the full match schedule for the four-team tournament today, which will see the All Blacks take on the Wallabies on the last match week on Saturday, December 12, a plan that NZR boss Mark Robinson claims New Zealand didn’t agree to.
The final game of the competition will mean All Blacks players and staff will be forced to spend Christmas in managed isolation, a situation that NZR were hoping to avoid.
“We were working on the understanding and all our planning and scheduling was on the basis that the All Blacks’ last match would be on December 5 to give our players and management time to get home, undertake the 14 days’ quarantine back in New Zealand, and then be with their families for Christmas, as will be the case for the other three teams in the tournament,” Robinson said.
“We understand the commercial considerations in the scheduling. However, the wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also.
“We are committed to playing in the Rugby Championship and we know the scheduling of matches has been a complex and dynamic issue to work through, especially with quarantine protocols, but we haven’t agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement.”
Speaking to Newstalk ZB after Robinson’s comments, Marinos said NZR was fully consulted about the schedule from the start.
“They’ve been fully consulted and have been part of the process right from the get-go,” Marinos said. “And we understand their concern around them not wanting to have their players in a quarantine process over Christmas. But we have also agreed that we’re going to continue to work and see how best we can work around the solution.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s a significant amount of compromise and sacrifice from all four countries that are playing in this competition. All of them have had to spend extended periods of time away from homes.”
Marinos admitted that NZR did request the final day of the competition to be pushed forward but said the plan was always to keep the current schedule, and that the fixtures were due to be confirmed to the New South Wales government today.
“It’s always been on the 12th. And all of New Zealand’s modelling was always on the 12th as well when they were hosting the event in New Zealand. So the only changes on the request from the Kiwis to put it on the 5th has come in since Australia were awarded it.
“New Zealand were fully aware that we had a D-Day with the New South Wales government for today. It certainly didn’t come as any surprise to the other unions at all.
“We have interrogated a multitude of different options and different considerations and the other unions were certainly supportive of what was the original schedule, which is what has been put up, a six Saturday schedule. And hence, we have to go forward.”
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Marinos said the main reason for the current schedule, which will feature 12 tests on back-to-back weekends from November 7 to December 12, was about avoiding player welfare and safety issues from quick turnarounds.
“I think the challenge we’ve got is trying to condense the competition puts significant player safety issues on the table and that is a pretty arduous schedule as it is six tests in six weeks.
“Trying to condense that into a five-week schedule or have a shorter turnaround on games for certain teams, I think we’ll all be reasonable in understanding that it has a pretty significant player welfare and safety issue as well. Like anything this year, there’s no silver bullet. There are elements of compromise as we navigate our way through this process.
“Australia has a preferred model for the same reasons that it was the preferred model when it was a possibility of it being in New Zealand is that it gives you the best player outcome from a welfare perspective in terms of the spread of games.
“And obviously commercially it gives you the best yield and opportunity to take rugby through a whole series of double-headers and a whole lot of matches that have meaning and not sort of standalone games that may not have as much attractiveness.”
Marinos said rescheduling the game is unlikely to be on the cards because it would put the safety and welfare of players at risk.
“We’re going to just continue to work as joint venture partners as we have in the past. This is certainly not unfamiliar territory that we don’t have complete alignment but I’m pretty confident that we will get the right solution. And I think that we’ve got to continually work our way around seeing if there’s a more optimal outcome around a quarantine regime.
“As we saw on the Bledisloes, I’m sure we can work together and get a better result as we are going to have to with the [South] Africans and the Argentinians who are having to return back into a quarantine environment themselves.”
Aside from the disagreements, or as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously alluded to as “Sanzaar politics”, Marinos said he was looking forward to international rugby being back.
“I think people are all focusing on all the other issues. Absolutely that is the most exciting point that we’ve got the Championship happening now in a centralised location and being able to get international rugby away. It can be a really good celebration of rugby with all the best teams in the world playing.”
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