Queensland Government hold Rugby Championship key
SPOTLIGHT: The fate of the Rugby Championship and Australia’s hopes of hosting the tournament lies with the Queensland Government.
SANZAAR is scrambling to keep the competition alive after Covid-19 outbreaks in New Zealand and Australia has eliminated the prospect of the two countries co-hosting most of the tournament, as originally planned.
Queensland, Europe and South Africa have since emerged as leading contenders to stage the competition, but developments over where the Rugby Championship will be played hasn’t come without drama.
A chaotic few days ensued after the All Blacks refused to board a flight to Perth last week ahead of the third Bledisloe Cup test, and their second Rugby Championship fixture against the Wallabies, which was scheduled for this weekend.
New Zealand Rugby’s [NZR’s] decision to opt against sending the All Blacks abroad came after the New Zealand Government closed its borders to Australia after the country, particularly New South Wales, was ravaged by Covid-19 in recent weeks.
That means the All Blacks would have to quarantine in a MIQ facility upon their return to New Zealand, but with MIQ spots booked up until mid-to-late November, they would have been stuck abroad for up to three months while the status of the Rugby Championship was still uncertain.
NZR’s decision drew the ire of Rugby Australia [RA], as chief executive Andy Marinos and Wallabies boss Dave Rennie lashed out at their trans-Tasman counterparts via the media.
Their concerns revolved around an apparent lack of communication between the two parties before NZR announced its decision to hold back from sending its players to Australia.
However, subsequent media reports have revealed that the two national unions, as well as SANZAAR, were in frequent contact with each other prior to NZR’s announcement on Friday.
As the Queensland Government had not given confirmation that it would host the Rugby Championship before last Friday’s deadline, which would have solidified the status of the competition, NZR held firm on their stance that they would not send its players.
Given the regular contact between NZR and RA ahead of that deadline, reports suggest RA were aware of NZR’s stance on the matter ahead of its announcement.
It’s understood RA were eager for NZ RUGBY to send the All Blacks to Perth to play the Wallabies on August 28 because the 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium had sold out for the match, and a fixture rearrangement would force RA to negotiate with the AFL for the use of the venue.
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As it stands, the contest looks set to be moved back by a week to September 4, with the All Blacks reportedly looking to depart New Zealand by this Saturday to satisfy a soft seven-day quarantine period in Perth ahead of the match.
Prior to last week’s debacle between NZR and RA, Perth had also been widely tipped to host the entire Rugby Championship in what would have been a back-up option after plans for New Zealand and Australia to co-host the event dissolved.
Those back-up plans hit a wall, though, as it was reported that the Springboks and Los Pumas, the other two teams in the Rugby Championship who are both currently based in South Africa, were unable to enter New South Wales to fulfil their two-week quarantine obligations, as initially planned.
The COVID-19 situation in New South Wales made it impossible for the state to welcome the two teams in from South Africa, a hotspot for the virus, and Western Australia followed suit when it said it would not host any matches featuring those nations.
That has left Queensland as the only viable location in Australia to host the entire Rugby Championship, with SANZAAR and its member unions awaiting confirmation from the state’s government to allow the four teams to enter the state.
A charter flight has to depart Australia for South Africa to collect the Springboks and Pumas before bringing them back to Queensland by Friday so they can quarantine and train for two weeks.
Both teams would then be released from quarantine a day before their respective matches against the All Blacks and Wallabies.
New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association [NZRPA] Chief Executive Rob Nichol says he believes Queensland is the preferred host option, but the ongoing wait for hosting confirmation from the state’s government has delayed proceedings.
“That [sending the All Blacks to Australia] wasn’t something we thought was sensible,” Nichol told SENZ.
“So what we said, and Argentina and South Africa did the same thing, is that by Friday lunchtime if we can’t confirm that Queensland can host Rugby Championship and quarantine and let them train – Argentina and South Africa – then we are going to have to push everything out a week which is pretty much what happened.”
Nichol added that RA hadn’t been blindsided by NZR, but conceded all parties involved in the decision-making process could have handled things better.
“To be fair they [RA] didn’t want the release to go out because they hadn’t kept their stakeholders informed throughout,” he told SENZ.
“But, the challenge we had is we had 65 people about to jump on a plane and they needed to be told, and their families needed to be told, and as soon as they are told, everyone finds out
“So, NZ Rugby made the call to put the release up. Probably the explanation and communication of, exactly, the circumstances weren’t clear enough are my pick on how things have rolled out.”
Nichol also told RNZ that the Queensland Government will deliver its verdict on whether it will host the Rugby Championship on Monday and that if it can’t, then the next preferred option would be to have it in the United Kingdom and Europe.
“The parties are meeting tonight. They should by then have a response as to whether Queensland can host the Rugby Championship, but probably most importantly whether they can host South Africa and Argentina on a quarantine for two weeks where they can train,” he said.
“If that’s not able to be achieved, the Rugby Championship won’t be able to be held in Australia.
“Then the options are the UK and Europe or South Africa, with probably the UK and Europe the favoured one, but that’s a decision for SANZAAR to make.”
By Sam Smith, RugbyPass