NZ's border closure puts Rugby Championship in doubt
SPOTLIGHT: The southern hemisphere’s showpiece Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup matches were in jeopardy Friday after Australia’s latest Covid-19 outbreak popped its trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand.
The two series are scheduled to be played primarily in New Zealand and Australia over the next two months with the added participation of South Africa and Argentina.
But New Zealand has suspended its quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia for at least eight weeks on Friday in response to the latter’s escalating coronavirus outbreak.
Brendon Morris, the head of the Rugby Championships governing body SANZAAR, said they were now reviewing their options “to find the best solutions for the tournament given this latest development.
The Wallabies have been in a secure bubble on Australia’s Gold Coast since their recent series against France.
*Article continues below…
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested they could still reach New Zealand for the first Bledisloe Cup Test on August 7 if they travelled in the next week, with proof of a negative pre-departure Covid test.
“However, it must be in the seven-day window, we are not making exceptions outside of that,” she added. “Everyone else has to go into quarantine.”
Commenting on the latest development Morris said: “The Rugby Championship is scheduled to be played primarily in New Zealand and Australia over the next two months, with the first two matches to be played in South Africa between the Springboks and Pumas.
“Following these opening two matches, both teams then travel to Australia and New Zealand for the remainder of the tournament.”
Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos and New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson said they were aiming for a positive outcome but had yet to confirm plans.
“It’s important we evaluate all of our options before finalising any plans,” Robinson said.
“We know the uncertainty this creates is challenging for our fans, players and partners, but remain committed to finding a path forward and continuing to deliver world-class rugby in 2021.
“We are continuing to work closely with the New Zealand Government to explore the option of bringing Australia across the Tasman for the two Bledisloe Cup Tests.
“As we have throughout the Covid-19 pandemic our decisions will continue be guided by the advice of relevant Government and health authorities with the health and safety of our people at the forefront of any decisions. It’s important we evaluate all of our options before finalising any plans.”
Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer Marinos said: “We are working closely with New Zealand Rugby and the various Governments through different scenarios now. Rugby Australia’s position has always been to prioritise the health and safety of its players, staff and fans, and today’s announcement only reinforces that. We want to thank the Australian Government as well as the New Zealand Government for their support so far, as we aim for a positive outcome in the coming days.
“The Wallabies team have been in a secure bubble since the conclusion of the France Series, with the squad assembled on the Gold Coast. The players are regularly tested for Covid-19 and have maintained strict bio-security protocols as recommended by the Return To Play Committee and the relevant health authorities,” Marinos said.
Last year’s Rugby Championship was originally to be staged in New Zealand but because of quarantine restrictions it was moved to Australia.
It featured only New Zealand, Australia and Argentina after South Africa pulled out.
NZR reveealed that SANZAAR along with its member national unions – NZR, RA, South Africa Rugby and Argentina Rugby Union – will announce any potential and necessary changes to the tournament schedule in due course.