SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos has revealed he is “very optimistic” about the chances of New Zealand hosting the Rugby Championship in November and December should the country maintain its level of COVID-19 infections.
With international borders closed worldwide, the prospect of playing the annual Southern Hemisphere tournament in its usual home-and-away format has been nullified this year.
Instead, SANZAAR has been working towards staging the competition in just one country, with New Zealand standing as the primary candidate due to its low COVID-19 rates compared to that of Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
A resurgence of coronavirus cases in Auckland this month sparked concerns about the feasibility of the Rugby Championship going ahead as planned in New Zealand between November 7 and December 12, but Marinos remains hopeful.
“I feel as if we’re close,” Marinos told Stuff.
“If numbers and infections [in New Zealand] remain at this level or start improving, then we’re very optimistic.
“But one can’t ignore the fact of what we saw in New Zealand a few weeks ago, when there was an outbreak out of nowhere and swift reaction that was taken in order to contain it.
“There is always that element of unpredictability, but my philosophy throughout this whole pandemic is you’ve got to control the controllables, and make sure we’re doing everything we can so that when the green light is given we can turn things on.”
With the Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas all expected to travel to New Zealand for the tournament, all three teams will have to undergo a two-week quarantine period upon their arrival.
Reports in recent weeks have indicated that Queenstown looms as a potential host for the visiting sides, but Marinos told Stuff there was plenty of work to be done before the tourist hotspot could be confirmed as a centralised quarantine hub.
“We have explored the possibility of centralising the other teams and just bringing them in and out for the various games,” he said.
“But again that is very fluid. It’s just a concept that we have considered.
“The biggest challenge has always been that the players are going to be in a safe environment, and there is no doubt that New Zealand and Australia are probably safer than most major centres from an outbreak perspective.
“The other thing goes to player welfare. The quarantine can be managed if there is mobility and movement, and they can prepare.
“Given the stop-start nature of the seasons so far, it is imperative that player get as much physical activity as often as possible in order for them to stand up to the rigours of six test matches in six weeks.”
A report from the New Zealand Herald yesterday revealed a degree of uncertainty about the chances of quarantining the Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas in Queenstown all at once.
The Herald stated that none of the three teams can all complete the mandatory quarantine period of two weeks at the same time, meaning a staggered approach would need to be taken upon each team’s arrival in New Zealand.
That could eat into the November 7 kick-off date of the Rugby Championship, although Argentina are willing to travel to New Zealand early to play some warm-up fixtures, something of which Marinos confirmed to Stuff that SANZAAR was looking into.
Players in South Africa, meanwhile, have only just been given the green light to resume full contact training from next week, the first time they will be able to do so since Super Rugby was suspended in March.
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