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Rugby Australia finds the gap


It takes a lot to push the election campaign aside even briefly but this is what has happened as Australia has performed a brilliant coup to snaffle the four nations Rugby Championship later this year from New Zealand.

The championship will now be held in Australia from November 7 to December 12, leaving this country with the consolation — and it is not a small one in fairness — of two Bledisloe Cup tests on October 17 and 22 which will hopefully be played in full stadiums.

New Zealand has been left with a blame game between NZ Rugby and the Government. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country has been the victim of Sanzaar politics, which NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson denies.

Australia has based its coup on being able to offer a shorter quarantine time, even though the New Zealand Government had agreed to relax regulations to allow teams to fully train together earlier.

Australia will allow teams in quarantine to train together on day one but in New Zealand, at least under the present regulations, they would not be allowed to have 25 players training together until day seven or eight.

The Aussies could be taking a chance — two of the four teams, Argentina and South Africa, are among the top 10 countries for reported coronavirus cases. Players testing positive during the championship could derail it.

The loss of the championship is another financial blow for NZ Rugby, with an estimated cost of $100m.

While NZ Rugby is blaming the restrictions, there are signs that Rugby Australia's head Hamish McLennan is a shrewd operator who has lifted the game there from a struggling situation to one where it is on the up and up. McLennan and his organisation are now lobbying strongly to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup and two years before that they have the financial and publicity bonus of a Lions tour.

It is hard to gauge whether the loss of the championship could hurt the Government in next month's elections. New Zealand is becoming more divided between those who love rugby and those opposed to it, while many neutrals would see it unfair for sports people to get special privileges.

The first of the Bledisloe tests is on election day but with an evening kick-off it should not have any real effect on whether people vote or not.

But the sooner New Zealand can come out of level two, the better for sport and indirectly the Government.