Australia has stolen The Rugby Championship hosting rights from under the nose of their New Zealand counterparts.

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SANZAAR announced on Friday that Rugby Australia will act as the host union for the four-nation tournament, which will be held between November and December.

The news comes after months of speculation that indicated New Zealand stood as the frontrunner to host the annual event, that is normally held in a ‘home-and-away’ format across the Southern Hemisphere.

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Reds coach Brad Thorn speaks to media

However, reports of failed negotiations between SANZAAR and the New Zealand Government over the nation’s strict COVID-19 restrictions has led to Australia winning the hosting rights for the competition following a conference call held on Thursday.

“We are delighted that SANZAAR can, at last, confirm the participants and host country for The Rugby Championship and put an end to the continued speculation about the tournaments’ format and location,” SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said.

“Traditionally TRC is played as an international, cross-border series of home and away matches between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but due to the pandemic this is obviously not possible this year.

“We have, therefore, worked very hard as a group to ensure TRC takes place this year, albeit in one country, and SANZAAR was meticulous in assessing the two options for hosting presented to it by New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia.

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“SANZAAR ultimately determined that based on government-required quarantine protocols [for entry and training prior to the tournament] and commercial underwriting, the Rugby Australia submission was the most desirable and workable in terms of tournament logistics for the essential pre-tournament preparation period and the six-week tournament itself.”

All hope of staging All Blacks tests in New Zealand hasn’t been lost, however, as New Zealand Rugby has also confirmed that two Bledisloe Cup matches will be held on the east side of the Tasman Sea.

The two New Zealand-based tests will be held in October, and the dates and venues of both matches will be announced in “due course”.

“Those two matches will be massive for our fans and the All Blacks.  We know that the Bledisloe Cup is the pinnacle of trans-Tasman rivalry and there will be huge anticipation ahead of those matches,” NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said.

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A statement released by Rugby Australia on Friday said Rugby Championship matches will primarily be played across New South Wales and Queensland, although Marinos suggested South Africa’s participation was yet to be solidified.

“The progress and impact of the pandemic has varied from country-to-country and international sporting competition is currently suspended in South Africa,” he said.

“The Springboks’ participation will be dependent on the relaxation of that suspension as well as overcoming a number of other logistical challenges including the opening of international air borders.

“South Africa is only expected to return to competitive play next month [October], leaving a relatively short time to prepare.”

Argentina are in a similarly dire COVID-19 state, with 11 players and four staff, including head coach Mario Ledsema, testing positive for the virus at their Buenos Aires training base in preparation for The Rugby Championship.

“Those infected were isolated, are asymptomatic and in good health,” the Argentine Rugby Union said in a statement.

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