Rugby Australia says they are not to blame for the Rugby Championship schedule that could leave the All Blacks locked away in hotel quarantine over Christmas. New Zealand are crying foul over playing the last match of the six-week tournament – a Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies in Sydney – on 12 December.
Under current New Zealand government guidelines players must quarantine for two weeks when they arrive home, meaning they will not be out in time to spend Christmas with their families. New Zealand Rugby issued a statement soon after the draw announcement on Thursday saying they believed the All Blacks’ last match would be on 5 December.
“We haven’t agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement,” said NZR chief executive Mark Robinson. “We understand the commercial considerations in the scheduling. However, the wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also.”
Even New Zealand prime minster Jacinda Ardern weighed in, saying there was an agreement on the schedule in place. “There was an agreement that those games would conclude by the sixth of December and if everyone sticks to that, then it wouldn’t be an issue,” Adern said of the possible quarantine.
Australia was already in New Zealand’s bad books after pinching the hosting rights but RA boss Rob Clarke said the six-week schedule was not their fault. It is believed the other competing nations – world champions South Africa and Argentina – pushed for the longer tournament.
“On two formal occasions Rugby Australia was supportive of altering the draw so that the Rugby Championship could be played over five weeks …. on both occasions, that proposal was rejected which means there was never an agreement to finish the tournament on Saturday 5 December 2020,” Clarke said.
He said RA would do whatever it could to make sure the All Blacks avoided spending Christmas in quarantine and hoped with more than two months before the 12 December match a solution could be found. According to organising body Sanzaar, it appears that solution rests with the New Zealand government relaxing quarantine.
“The 12th of December is an issue for New Zealand but we’ve exhausted every other option and only one at its very furthest – working through how best we can manage the quarantine,” Sanzaar boss Andy Marinos said at the schedule announcement in Sydney.
Marinos said they were looking at options including tighter bubbles which might allow the New Zealand government to relax the quarantine laws for the All Blacks. “Whether we put them into an isolation bubble for the last week to try and help aid any sort of quarantine on the other side,” he said.
Marinos ruled out condensing the schedule to try to fit six Tests into a five-week block, citing a heightened risk of serious injuries as has been seen in the NRL this season.
The schedule sees Bledisloe Cup Tests bookend the tournament, which kicks off at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on 7 November. The competition will be be played as six double-header fixtures, with all but the opening round in NSW. ANZ Stadium and Bankwest Stadium will each host two rounds while one will be played at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Saturday, 28 November.