Australia to host Rugby Championship amid COVID-19 scramble


Rugby Australia has pulled off a major coup in what has been a disastrous year for the code, securing the entire Rugby Championship which will be played across November and December this year.

SANZAAR on Friday confirmed that Australia had won the right to stage the tournament “hub” after New Zealand was unable to deliver the required training environments under the Government’s border restrictions and quarantine protocols.

New Zealand will instead host two Bledisloe Tests ahead of the Rugby Championship in October.

New Zealand had been SANZAAR’s preferred location after it initially halted all cases of community transmission of the devastating COVID-19 virus.

The country was enjoying life as normal, including having sold-out venues for its hugely successful Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament, only for mystery coronavirus cases to re-emerge, a situation that saw Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reinstate Level 2 and Level 3 restrictions across the country.

Australia, meanwhile, continues to have a small number of coronavirus cases, across both Queensland and New South Wales, where the tournament will be held, but has already demonstrated they can have fans attend sporting events in a COVID-safe environment.

Queensland Reds can this weekend welcome up to 25,000 people for their Super Rugby AU qualifying final at Suncorp Stadium.

The ability to have supporters in the stands and stronger commercial benefits, combined with the guarantee of proper quarantine training conditions, turned the decision Australia’s way.

The tournament will comprise a six-week, 12-match, home-and-away tournament involving Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“We are delighted that SANZAAR can, at last, confirm the participants and host country for The Rugby Championship and put an end to the continued speculation about the tournaments’ format and location,” SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said.

“Traditionally TRC is played as an international, cross-border series of home and away matches between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but due to the pandemic this is obviously not possible this year.

“We have, therefore, worked very hard as a group to ensure TRC takes place this year, albeit in one country, and SANZAAR was meticulous in assessing the two options for hosting presented to it by New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia.

“SANZAAR ultimately determined that based on government-required quarantine protocols [for entry and training prior to the tournament] and commercial underwriting, the Rugby Australia submission was the most desirable and workable in terms of tournament logistics for the essential pre-tournament preparation period and the six-week tournament itself.”

Rugby Australia boss Rob Clarke confirmed New South Wales would host all but one round of the tournament, with the remaining double-header to be played in Queenslander.

“Firstly, I want to thank our SANZAAR partners for their support and their cooperation in making this tournament possible,” Clarke said. “I also want to thank our Government partners, particularly the New South Wales Government who have backed us to secure the tournament and they will be delighted to hear of SANZAAR’s support. We will now knuckle down to make these plans a reality.”

Marinos said that South Africa’s participation remained to be confirmed as it was dependent on several factors outside the control of SANZAAR.

“The progress and impact of the pandemic has varied from country-to-country and international sporting competition is currently suspended in South Africa,” he said.

“The Springboks’ participation will be dependent on the relaxation of that suspension as well as overcoming a number of other logistical challenges including the opening of international air borders. South Africa is only expected to return to competitive play next month [October], leaving a relatively short time to prepare.”

Argentina still remain in the frame to participate in the tournament despite several players and coaching staff testing positive for COVID-19.

A statement posted on the Pumas website said: “The results of the swabs showed the appearance of positive cases of COVID-19 in some members of the staff. Among them, the coaches Mario Ledesma, Nicolas Fernandez Miranda and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

“For their part, the new positive cases among the players correspond to Felipe Ezcurra, Matias Moroni, Tomas Cubelli, Matias Orlando and Mateo Carreras.

“Those infected were isolated, are asymptomatic and in good health.”

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