WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has downplayed concerns that the country’s strict biosecurity regulations could see next month’s Bledisloe Cup matches moved to Australia or cancelled altogether.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and Rugby Australia (RA) are yet to finalise details for the games, though Oct. 17 and 24 have been pencilled in as potential dates.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, however, suggested on Sunday that NZR were pushing for a match on Oct. 10 and said there was no way his team would be ready to play on that date given the biosecurity protocols in New Zealand.
While Australian media jumped on Rennie’s comments and said there was a chance RA would refuse to play, Ardern told a media conference on Monday she did not think that was likely.
“I don’t anticipate that being an issue,” she said. “I believe we will be able to find a workable solution to make the Bledisloe Cup happen.”
New Zealand’s strict protocols, which mean teams would only be able to train in larger groups gradually as they go through the 14-day quarantine, was seen as one of the reasons it lost out to Australia for the Rugby Championship hosting rights.
Ardern said hosting the Wallabies for the Bledisloe Cup was a different proposition from the Rugby Championship, which also involves South Africa and Argentina, in terms of risk.
More than a dozen Pumas players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19 infections in the last two weeks.
“We are still working through logistics,” she said.
“Keeping in mind … it is a different risk profile for teams from Australia than the likes of South Africa or Argentina.”
Ardern added the government would work with the dates that NZR and RA agreed upon.
A NZR spokesman said no dates had been finalised yet.
New Zealand’s general election is scheduled for Oct. 17 and Ardern said she felt confident the country could vote and also watch a rugby game on the same day.
“I will be trying to do the same,” she said.
“I think the most important thing is that New Zealanders get the chance to see that match.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)