Penney calls for "open mindedness" on trans-Tasman competition bubble

Super Rugby - AU
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Waratahs coach Rob Penney says Australia's compliance with COVID-19 restrictions should help encourage New Zealand to be part of a trans-Tasman sporting bubble in 2021.

No professional player in Australia has tested positive to the virus and teams have been operating under strict biosecurity rules throughout the Super Rugby AU season.

Those requirements, which include not being allowed to mix with more than those you live with or who are specified as an essential part of the team.

While he conceded the immediate hopes of that would be difficult, he advocated for an expansion of the travel that has been allowed internally in the Super Rugby AU competition.

New Zealand uncovered its first cases of community transmission for 102 days this week, putting doubts over even the ability for a Rugby Championship bubble to be able to be held in New Zealand.

Penney said he hoped there could be some kind of leniency in months to come if teams continued to abide by stricter rules than wider society.

"I think there's some innovative thinking going on and I think New Zealand's just one part of that solution going forward and then might be challenging in the next 12 months with the borders but let's hope (it can work)

"NZ's not immune to COVID is it. We've just seen, so they can't keep locking their doors and say no one can come in.

"I think Rugby Australia have done a magnificent job, the teams have been so cautious around their isolation and we're nearly at the end of our three months of keeping out of restaurants and keeping out of areas that could potentially cause us some issues around the COVID stuff.

"We've proved we've done it here, I'd really love to think that NZ would be open to, if we can prove the teams are all COVID free, we can leave here, we can go and play a fixture in New Zealand or they can come here and play a fixture and we can stay in our bubbles and we can have a really good competition.

"I just hope there's some open-mindedness beyond Christmas that will allow that to happen."

Protocol breaches have reared their heads in both NRL and AFL in recent weeks as teams nad players tire of tight rules, that have at times extended beyond the rest of society.

Reds coach Brad Thorn said while it was frustrating that this had continued on well past the length of time anyone had anticipated, there was no choice but to respect the rules.

"I just think for everyone in Australia and around the world, it's drawing on isn't it, it hasn't just gone away in three months," he said.

"There's frustration globally but it is what it is.

"You just have to think about elderly people, think about everyone involved and try and do the right thing."

New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia have been at odds publicly over a competition structure for next year and beyond, with the Aussies this week unveiling their proposal for either a 10-team trans-Tasman or a smaller domestic-focused competition.

Penney has been a supporter of a trans-Tasman competition for 2021 and beyond and reiterated that view on Thursday but said he was pleased to see Australia playing hardball with their trans-Tasman neighbours.

"I think a domestic-only competition could work, it could be brilliant, but I think having the international flavour is something that I guess draws the rugby fans from a wider circle together," he said.

"From a Kiwi's perspective, it's always great to play the Australians, there's something very special about that relationship.

"There's a lot of hyperbole coming out of New Zealand about what rugby might look like going forward early on, I just think it's been outstanding the way that Rugby Australia have handled that and have gone back to New Zealand and painted another picture and I think there was a little bit of, maybe taken aback in New Zealand about the response initially but I think there's been some good noises since.

"It was great that Rugby Australia have come out with an alternate model as well. Say, for example, if the Super model is shortened to what we have now but it leads into a different type of competition."

The Waratahs take on the Force at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday August 14, kicking off at 7:05pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy tickets here. Buy a Kayo subscription here.