D-day for trans-Tasman decision approaching fast
SPOTLIGHT: While New Zealand and Australia have both settled on plans for the domestic 2020 season, which was originally turned on its head due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still much to be decided for 2021.
With international travel limited, New Zealand’s five Super Rugby sides are playing one another in a 10-week round-robin competition which kicked off last weekend. The Australian teams plus the Western Force will compete in a similar competition starting next month.
Although it’s impossible to say when border restrictions will be lifted, there’s hope that some of the countries that have the pandemic more under control could potentially open up travel amongst themselves. There’s been plenty of talk regarding a potential trans-Tasman bubble for some time while the Pacific Islands and even Japan have managed to limit COVID-19 cases.
From a rugby point of view, that could open the door to trial a Champion’s Cup-style tournament in 2021 involving the aforementioned countries. While South Africa and Argentina form SANZAAR alongside NZ and Australia, expectations are that neither of those nations will be in a position where regular competition is feasible or affordable for next year – at least at this stage.
According to Rugbypass, New Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan has suggested that nothing has been confirmed for next season just yet but that a decision is due very shortly.
“If it’s to happen with New Zealand, we need to decide it all in the next four to six weeks,” McLennan told ABC News on Saturday.
“There are a lot of things up in the air because of the pandemic. Our desire is to do something with New Zealand. We’re having some informal conversations with the Kiwis at the moment.
“We think a cross-Tasman competition given the pandemic and the fact we’re lucky to be living in this part of the world … if we can do something between the two countries that would be ideal.”
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The first three games of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition have attracted massive audiences. The Highlanders’, Blues’ and Chiefs’ home matches have all been played in front of close to sell-out crowds while SKY revealed earlier this week that TV viewership had skyrocketed since the early stages of the initial Super Rugby season that kicked off in January this year.
While the NZ matches are obviously capturing plenty of attention at this stage, questions remain whether bringing the Australian sides back into the fold will actually increase or decrease interest. Naturally, McLennan wants his nation involved – ideally with all five of Australia’s current and former Super Rugby teams taking part.
“The team construct still has to be decided,” McLennan said. “I’d like to think the Western Force could be in there. I think Twiggy Forrest has been terrific to me over the last couple of weeks. I think West Australian representation is really important … so it would be nice if we had five teams but it’s too early to say.”
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McLennan also revealed that the United States and England could be Australia’s biggest challengers to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
“We hear the US and potentially England may have a crack, so we’ll just wait and see but there’s a few months for the other bidders to register their interest,” he said.
England last hosted the World Cup in 2015. The tournament was played in Japan last year while the next event will be hosted by France, making it the third World Cup in a row held in the Northern Hemisphere.
Australia are the only nation to have officially confirmed a bid for 2027 at this stage.