'There was never an agreement': Rugby Australia boss says TRC schedule not out fault

The Rugby Championship
by Christy Doran

After months of no international rugby, Thursday's Rugby Championship draw announcement was supposed to be a celebration but Rugby Australia says they're not to blame for the schedule that could leave the All Blacks locked away in hotel quarantine over Christmas.

On the same day The Rugby Championship schedule was released, New Zealand Rugby went on the attack after the last match of the six-week tournament - a Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies in Sydney - on December 12 was set in stone.

In any other year such a finishing date would be fine, but because current NZ government guidelines mean players must quarantine for two weeks when they arrive home, the All Blacks won't be out in time to spend Christmas with their families.

Just minutes after SANZAAR released the draw at 9am AEST, New Zealand Rugby issued a statement saying they believed the All Blacks' last match would be on December 5.

"We haven't agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement," NZR CEO Mark Robinson said.

"We understand the commercial considerations in the scheduling. However, the wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also."


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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is hoping to win re-election next month, weighed in on the matter and said there wouldn't be an issue if SANZAAR stuck to the "agreement".

"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.

But Rugby Australia interim CEO Rob Clarke has hit back, saying that they hoped to be able to complete the six-match tournament in five weeks but that decision was taken out of their hands.

"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 in a statement.

It's understood that Argentina and South Africa didn't believe they could play six Tests in five weeks because they aren't match hardened like their SANZAAR partners, who have had the benefit of being able to complete a makeshift Super Rugby season.

"By condemning it, the reality is we’re asking players to play six Test matches in six weeks is pretty arduous as it is with no breaks," SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos told reporters in Sydney.

"You want to condense that window any closer? I don’t think we have to look too far past what’s happened in the NRL in terms of the number of injuries to come out of this competition because of the intensity and the lack of preparation the guys had going back into a full season.

"We’ve got to be cognisant of player welfare but there’s also player safety. You’ve got to manage players from a long-term perspective and make sure we’re not increasing their risk profile disproportionately that they could get serious career-ending injuries. We’ve got to manage the situation."


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Marinos also down played the possibility of the tournament not going ahead, but added they were continuing to work with New Zealand Rugby on the quarantine issue.

"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.

"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.

The Rugby Championship will kick-off in Brisbane on November 7 as the Springboks play the Pumas for the first time since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup last year, before the Wallabies host the All Blacks.

The competition will be be played as six double-header fixtures, with all but the opening round in NSW.

The fourth and final Bledisloe fixture bookends The Rugby Championship on December 12.

ANZ Stadium and Bankwest Stadium will each host two rounds while one will be played at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Saturday, November 28.