SANZAAR boss hits back at New Zealand Rugby's 'disappointment', says Rugby Championship will go ahead

The Rugby Championship
by Christy Doran

IN SYDNEY -- SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos doesn't think The Rugby Championship is at risk of not going ahead despite New Zealand Rugby expressing their "disappointment" and that they "haven't agreed to this schedule".

On Thursday morning SANZAAR released the 2020 Rugby Championship draw, which will run in Australia from November 7 to December 12.

But within minutes of the announcement, New Zealand Rugby, who had been the frontrunners to host the tournament before the nation's strong quarantine regulations meant it would be impractical for all four competing nations to base themselves in the Shaky Isles, released a strongly worded statement slamming the schedule.

New Zealand Rugby's "disappointment" rests on the sixth and final round of the tournament, which is to be played on December 12.

Under New Zealand's current border regulations, players would have to quarantine for 14 days by themselves and would, therefore, be unable to spend the Christmas festival with their families.

"We were working on the understanding and all our planning and scheduling was on the basis that the All Blacks last match would be on December 5 to give our players and management time to get home, undertake the 14 days' quarantine back in New Zealand, and then be with their families for Christmas, as will be the case for the other three teams in the Tournament," New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson said.

Marinos confirmed the date was the major point of debate.

"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," Marinos told reporters in Sydney at the official announcement of The Rugby Championship.

"We’re going to have to do what we can to make sure we get the desired result for both parties."

New Zealand Rugby added that they were committed to The Rugby Championship, but hadn't agreed to the schedule. 

"We are committed to playing in the Rugby Championship and we know the scheduling of matches has been a complex and dynamic issue to work through, especially with quarantine protocols, but we haven't agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement," Robinson said.

Asked whether The Rugby Championship was at risk of not going ahead, Marinos poured cold water on the possibility but said that further discussion would be had.

"I don’t think so," he said.

"There’s too much at stake.

"It’s just about how we can best manage individual needs of all the unions and this is the challenge we’ve got with the whole pandemic, there’s complexities at every single corner. Sometimes you’ve got to make a decision and go forward and work on the different permutations. At some stages we’ve gone down a particular path and COVID interactions make us change that path."

Interestingly, New Zealand Rugby had initially turned down Rugby Australia's request for The Rugby Championship to be played over five weeks when their trans-Tasman neighbours were set to host the tournament.

When the tables turned and Australia was to host the tournament, New Zealand Rugby made the same request to their Bledisloe rivals.

Rugby Australia said, 'Yes'.

But fellow SANZAAR partners South Africa and Argentina said 'No' because of the increased risk of injury, particularly given they would not have played domestic tournaments like Australia and New Zealand had with Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa respectively.

Pressed on whether there were any other options to bring forward the final round, Marinos said they were looking at other options, including tighter bubbles which might allow the New Zealand Government to relax the quarantine laws for the All Blacks, but player welfare was paramount.

"We’re looking at all different options," Marinos said.

"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.

"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.

"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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The Rugby Championship will see six double-headers over as many weeks, with Argentina and South Africa to kick-off the tournament at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on November 7 before the Wallabies host the All Blacks later that night.

All four sides will then play five double-headers in Sydney and Newcastle over the next five Saturday nights.

Rugby Australia interim CEO Rob Clarke described the tournament as "unmissable".

"What a fantastic tournament ahead for fans in Australia," Clarke said.

"Six unmissable back-to-back doubleheaders featuring four of the very best Test nations in World Rugby - all in our backyard."

THE RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP 2020 FIXTURES

Round One - Saturday 7 November 2020

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Argentina v South Africa

Australia v New Zealand

Round two - Saturday 14 November

Bankwest Stadium, Sydney

New Zealand v Argentina

South Africa v Australia

Round Three - Saturday 21 November 

ANZ Stadium, Sydney

New Zealand v South Africa

Australia v Argentina

Round Four - Saturday 28 November

McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

Argentina v Australia

South Africa v New Zealand

Round Five - Saturday 5 December

Bankwest Stadium, Sydney

Argentina v New Zealand

Australia v South Africa

Round Six - Saturday 12 December

ANZ Stadium, Sydney

South Africa v Argentina

Australia v New Zealand