CHRISTCHURCH • Australia coach Dave Rennie sided with New Zealand yesterday over a scheduling row threatening to derail the Rugby Championship, but he held back from saying it would be resolved.
The stumbling block is New Zealand’s demand that the tournament, which also involves South Africa and Argentina, be over in time for the All Blacks to be home with their families for Christmas after meeting their country’s strict 14-day quarantine rules.
The tournament is being staged in one country for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the opening round in the eastern Australian city of Brisbane on Nov 7.
But when the governing body Sanzaar last Friday set the final round to be played in Sydney on Dec 12 – which meant the players would still be in quarantine on Dec 25 – New Zealand refused to commit to the itinerary.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said they were instead considering “a whole lot of different options”. He also accused hosts Australia of reneging on a “commitment” to have the players home for Christmas.
New Zealand was initially asked to host the tournament but it was later switched to Australia, which offered more flexible quarantine rules.
Under the original plan, New Zealand had agreed to an Australian request for the Wallabies to be home for Christmas and Rennie said it would be “hypocritical of us now to not support New Zealand when we thought it was a good idea”.
But New Zealand-born Rennie said while Australia supported the All Blacks’ request, a change of itinerary “needs to be unanimous” within the four-nation Sanzaar organisation. He added that there was talk of a bubble encompassing New South Wales and New Zealand “and if that comes in before Christmas then it’s a non-issue”.
Rennie and his 40-strong squad, including 16 newcomers, arrived in New Zealand late on Friday ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Wellington on Oct 11. They are serving their 14-day quarantine in a Christchurch hotel, and will begin training tomorrow.
“There’s still some positions up for grabs,” he said. “I’ve always said that we’re going to pick on form. And you know, if you’re good enough you’re old enough so there’s no doubt some of the young men are going to put some serious heat on for a spot in that 23.”