Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit back at claims the Government’s quarantine regulations are to blame for Australia securing the Rugby Championship over New Zealand.
This comes after New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association boss Rob Nichol on Friday said the Government’s reluctance to allow visiting teams to train effectively once they arrived, led to the tournament being moved across the Tasman – despite the fact governing body Sanzaar had earlier indicated New Zealand was the preferred destination.
The Herald first revealed that New South Wales had pinched the four-nations tournament from New Zealand and that it would be hosted from November 7 to December 12.
The first two Bledisloe Cup matches will be played in New Zealand on October 17 and 24.
According to Nichol, the need to isolate without training for a set number of days, and restrictions around the size of bubbles thereafter were the major sticking points that swung the tournament in Australia’s favour.
While South Africa, Australia and Argentina were expected to travel to New Zealand with squads of more than 45, they would only be allowed to train in bubbles no bigger than 25.
“The biggest challenge by far is they would have been coming with 45 players plus team management and when they arrived under New Zealand quarantine conditions, as was explained to us, the first three days they would have to spend in the hotel rooms by themselves, then they would have to return a negative Covid test,” Nichol told the Herald.
“Ultimately, the quarantine requirements required by the NZ Government frankly made it impossible for South Africa, Argentina and Australia to come and prepare appropriately.
“They won’t be able to train together as a team, and they’re going to be asked to play test matches after two weeks of quarantine.”
When asked about the reports that Australia had secured the tournament before the official announcement, Ardern said the Government had put in extensive work to secure it.
“We put in a huge amount of effort into that bid, worked really hard to accommodate the needs of the tournament and the players, even creating a regime where they could be training within three days of arrival in New Zealand,” Ardern said. “If we are not successful, I’d say it would be a result of being caught up in Sanzaar politics.
“The arrangements that we proposed as part of the bid did include training while in quarantine. We worked very hard with [Ministry of] Health and the tournament organisers to make it work in a way that looked after people’s health and didn’t jeopardise the tournament. It would mean they would’ve been able to train within three days of arrival.”
Ardern also backed the training facilities set to be used.
“New Zealand has very successfully hosted tournaments of this nature on a larger scale before,” she said. “And I have every confidence that actually the facilities that we were proposing were up to scratch and the ability to train within three days of arrival was also an important part of that pitch.”
Sport Minister Grant Robertson said the isolation proposal would “protect the tournament” in case one player became infected with Covid-19.
“If one player goes down with Covid they run the risk of infecting their whole team and putting the Rugby Championship in jeopardy where as we would have isolated cases at day three,” he said.
“We still believe this was a very competitive proposal, especially given that we have the best prospect of being able to have full stadiums for the games.”
Australia’s successful pitch is believed to centre on 50 to 75 per cent crowd capacity.
According to Nichol, however, these quarantine rules meant Australia was a far more attractive option.
“It’s not just playing a one-off game, it’s six games in five weeks. That’s just not palatable to an international team. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s quarantine rules, as relates to these sports teams, just meant it wasn’t going to be possible,” he said.
“Compare that to Australia and our players can hop on a plane, land, they can immediately train and prepare together as a full squad and they are able to play a test match the day after they come out of quarantine.
“It’s an incredibly attractive option compared to New Zealand’s system. Ultimately that’s what swayed it.”
The All Blacks will travel to Australia after the Bledisloe tests, likely to be in Auckland and Wellington, where they could be based for up to 10 weeks and will have to quarantine on their return home.
That would mean All Blacks players, several of whom have young children, will be in quarantine on Christmas Day.