NZ Rugby forced to scrap two home Tests

Publish Date
Tuesday, 27 July 2021, 8:40AM

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New Zealand Rugby has been forced to overhaul the All Blacks schedule and scrap plans to host two Rugby Championship tests against the Pumas in Auckland and Wellington in September due to the trans-Tasman bubble closure.

NZ Rugby confirmed on Monday the opening Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park on August 7 will proceed as planned, with the Wallabies expected to be granted an economic travel exemption to arrive in New Zealand this week.

The second Bledisloe Cup fixture was supposed to be played in Perth on August 21 but the Wallabies will now remain in New Zealand for two tests, with the third to be staged in the Western Australian capital.

NZ Rugby's preference is to hold the second Bledisloe in Wellington but with the Beervana event scheduled for Sky Stadium on August 13 and 14, the match may be held mid-week or on the Sunday.

"It's our strong intention to have a Bledisloe fixture in Wellington this year but there are some stadium availability issues on the 14th there," NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said.

"We just need to keep working with Rugby Australia, Sanzaar and the stadium to see what we can do there. I wouldn't rule out a mid-week fixture either if that's what suits all parties.

"We are also keen to get to Australia to play that [third] fixture. Covid has taught us in these times you have to compromise with the order of things to make everything work and get the games played.

"It's not ideal we now have to contemplate two games in New Zealand and one in Australia but that is the way it looks like it will be.

"We're still only 72 hours into this. We know we've got a confirmed fixture on the 7th and we've got a bit of time to work through things but we're hoping to confirm a date and venue for that second game in New Zealand before the end of the week."

In confirming the All Blacks plan to travel to Perth for the third Bledisloe, Lendrum revealed the team will remain in Australia to wait out the two-month trans-Tasman bubble pause - to avoid having to quarantine for two-weeks on return - and play the Pumas twice during that time.

Those two Rugby Championship tests against the Pumas were scheduled for September 11 at Eden Park and the 18th in Wellington.

"At this stage we would be planning on remaining in Australia and the two All Blacks versus Argentina tests, which were scheduled to be played in New Zealand previously, will be played in Australia," Lendrum said. "That's our expectation at the moment. We don't see any way we would be able to bring Argentina into New Zealand for those two games.

"It's tremendously disappointing but we've been living like this sadly for at least the last 12-15 months so it's not a surprise, it's just what you have to work with. We would love to have had Argentina at home after two fiercely competitive games in Australia last year. That's not to be."

In a best-case scenario, provided the travel pause is not extended beyond eight weeks, the All Blacks will return home after playing the Pumas. No venues in Australia have been confirmed as yet.

"We'll work with Rugby Australia and Sanzaar to identify where those games should be played whether together with a Wallabies fixture or separately we don't know yet."

NZ Rugby still hope to host the world champion Springboks in two headline fixtures. The first All Blacks and Boks test in Dunedin, scheduled for September 25, will be the 100th between the two proud rugby nations. The second test is on October 2 at Eden Park.

"The travel pause at this point does allow us to contemplate playing South Africa in two fixtures in New Zealand following the end of the eight weeks and those are hugely exciting for the team and the rugby public.

"That is of immense importance to both unions and we'll be doing everything we can to have both those games here as planned. All planning is still going towards those being in Dunedin and Auckland."

Moving the two Pumas tests to Australia leaves NZ Rugby contemplating another significant financial hit after being forced to play four of their six matches across the ditch last year.

"It's difficult to quantify what that is at the minute but the biggest loss both financially and emotionally is the ability to play at home – the gate, the connection with our community. We're doing everything we can within the bounds of the law and working with Government to get the All Blacks playing more games at home this year."

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission