New Zealand PM responds to All Blacks' bizarre situation
NEWS: There is “a real possibility” that New Zealand will host rugby Tests before the end of the year, but no arrangements have been finalised, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.
New Zealand had been set to stage the Rugby Championship and clashes against Australia between October and December before the government tightened rules on social events after a Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland.
It led to the bizarre situation on Sunday when the All Blacks named a 35-man Test squad with no confirmed fixtures or opponents to play.
Ardern said the government was working on the issue.
“There have been some discussions of whether we would have the ability to play host for a tournament within New Zealand,” she told radio station Newstalk ZB.
“It’s something we have been exploring and seeing whether we can facilitate that within current arrangements – we do have tight arrangements at our border that we need to uphold.”
Asked if the All Blacks were likely to play Test rugby in New Zealand before year’s end, Ardern replied: “I think that we’re doing enough to make it a real possibility.”
Under current arrangements, teams arriving from overseas would have to quarantine for two weeks and matches would be played without crowds, as gatherings of more than 100 are banned.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said Sunday that a Test schedule should be finalised within a week and New Zealand media report that governing body SANZAAR will release one on Friday.
New Zealand was originally slated to host the Rugby Championship – which features the All Blacks, Australia, South Africa and Argentina – between November 7 and December 12.
That is now in doubt because of New Zealand’s tighter rules and news that six Argentinian players tested positive to Covid-19 at a training camp in the hard-hit South American nation.
There are also concerns the world champion Springboks may be inadequately prepared after their players only recently restarted contact training after a virus-enforced lay-off of more than four months.
A two-way series against the Wallabies in October-November appears more likely, but rugby chiefs may prefer to play it in Australia’s Queensland state, where health rules are less stringent.
The Queensland government has proved flexible in order to attract major sporting events, agreeing to host the Australian Rules grand final in Brisbane on October 24 in front of 30 000 people.
Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium is already advertising itself on its website as the venue for an October 17 clash between the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
Ardern said New Zealand had “kept the door open” to hosting international rugby but the final decision on where Tests were played was out of her hands.
“It’s not just down to us… ultimately we’re not the only one making that decision,” she said.