WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand authorities are open to hosting Rugby Championship matches involving South Africa, Argentina and Australia later this year as long as facilities can be found to allow visiting national teams to quarantine securely and train.
SANZAAR, which governs the southern hemisphere competition, on Thursday indicated playing matches in New Zealand is now the best option to ensure the tournament goes ahead in 2020.
SANZAAR previously had its hopes set on playing a scaled back competition in Australia, but a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria state and a smaller surge in New South Wales now makes that unlikely.
New Zealand has virtually eliminated the coronavirus. By Thursday the country had gone 76 days without a case of community transmission and all active cases were returning travelers held at the border in managed isolation. Life has returned to normal, including full stadiums at sports events.
SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said New Zealand is the best bet for seeing the Rugby Championship played this year.
"Critical to this, however, is alignment with the New Zealand Government around its requirements for this to take place,” Marinos said. “SANZAAR is well advanced in option planning with New Zealand Rugby, which in turn is now seeking New Zealand Government approval. It is hoped that details will be announced in the near future.”
New Zealand Sports Minister Grant Robertson said “discussions are underway” about hosting the Championship.
“We are open to the idea of hosting these international games,” he said. “But of course we will need to ensure they can be held safely and we have the appropriate facilities available so that players can isolate and train upon entry to New Zealand.”
International rugby was suspended in March went sports went into lockdown globally amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Super Rugby competition, involving provincial teams from the four SANZAAR members plus Japan, was called off in March after seven rounds.
New Zealand launched its five-team domestic tournament, Super Rugby Aotearoa, last month and the regular derby matches have been popular with fans.
Australia kicked off a five-team Super Rugby AU this month and is entering the third round this weekend.
South Africa won a condensed Rugby Championship last year, including a 16-16 draw against the All Blacks in New Zealand, and went on to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
It was only the second time since the Rugby Championship was expanded to four nations in 2012 that New Zealand didn't win the title.
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