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New Zealand Rugby scrambles to host Rugby Championship

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Health minister Chris Hipkins says New Zealand Rugby has “a lot to work through” if it hopes to host a four-nation tournament later this year involving the All Blacks, Australia, Argentina and the World Cup-winning Springboks from South Africa.

Southern hemisphere rugby governing body SANZAAR is expected to decide in a conference call late Thursday or Friday if and where the annual Rugby Championship will be staged.

New Zealand has been slated to hold the tournament in November and December because of its perceived success in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. But an outbreak in its largest city, Auckland, strict border protocols and logistical problems in finding secure locations for teams to practice while in quarantine may have jeopardized its hosting bid.

Local media reports suggest SANZAAR now favors Australia as tournament host because it has less onerous border and quarantine restrictions in some states, and for commercial reasons.

New Zealand Rugby has been working to satisfy the government’s health requirements around the tournament and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said she believes the tournament can be played in New Zealand.

At a news conference on Thursday, Hipkins gave a less hopeful outlook, indicating the rugby officials haven't yet satisfied the government it has plans in place to ensure the series can be conducted safely.

Hipkins said NZR needs to explain how visiting teams can safely operate in a “bubble” while in quarantine.

“(Teams) need to be able to keep training through their isolation period and so what sort of bubble arrangements you would put around that is one of the details which are currently being worked through,” he said.

New Zealand Rugby has provided several options to New Zealand’s Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, but none has been accepted.

“There’s a good degree of goodwill but there’s a lot to work through,” Hipkins said, adding quarantine measures have to be “sufficiently robust.”

New Zealand was the first country to get its professional rugby union competition going again and have crowds at matches after global sport was shuttered for the pandemic.

But after months of not recording any news cases, the recent outbreak in Auckland meant a North vs South trial match for New Zealand All Blacks selection was played without fans.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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