New Zealand government relaxes rules for Bledisloe Cup tests

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New Zealand government has agreed to relax quarantine requirements to allow the All Blacks to play two Bledisloe Cup rugby tests at home against Australia next month.

The decision follows the move by southern hemisphere rugby body SANZAAR to move the four-nation Rugby Championship from New Zealand to Australia because of Australia’s more lenient rules around mandatory isolation.

All international rugby was pushed back from the southern hemisphere's traditional mid-year window because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere's premier provincial tournament involving teams from five nations, was shuttered in March when countries went into lock down.

New Zealand’s regulations would have forced visiting national teams from Argentina, Australia and South Africa to train in smaller groups until late in the quarantine period, whereas Australia will permit each squad to practice in full throughout the isolation.

The New Zealand rules also threatened to jeopardize the two-test Bledisloe Cup series because Australia likely would refuse to play a test on Oct. 10 if its preparation had been affected by the quarantine restrictions.

New Zealand Rugby is yet to confirm dates for the series, but the tests are likely to go ahead on Oct. 10 in Wellington and Oct. 17 — New Zealand’s election day — in Auckland.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday said an agreement was reached with New Zealand Rugby to allow the Wallabies to train in small groups from the third day and as a full group from the sixth day of their two-week quarantine period. Ardern said she also spoke to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday to work toward a solution.

“We just want to make sure that ... we go there and they go here and it is a fair arrangement,” Ardern told radio Newstalk ZB.

Ardern previously said stricter quarantine protocols would have to be in place around the Rugby Championship because South Africa and Argentina were higher risk countries. At least 10 members of the Argentina squad and coach Mario Ledesma have tested positive for COVID-19.

She said New Zealand Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield believes Australia’s “risk profile” is lower and it is “possible and advisable” for the Wallabies to come to New Zealand without the same level of restrictions.

Meanwhile, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has denied media reports that several senior All Blacks plan to skip the Rugby Championship because they would have to be based in Australia for up to 10 weeks and potentially could be in quarantine on Christmas Day.

Local media reports suggest flyhalves Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga and scrumhalf T.J. Perenara are among players who are reluctant to be separated from young families for so long.

Foster said players are being fully informed about quarantine and other requirements and none had spoken to him to indicate concern about the length of time they may be away from home.

“I read that report yesterday and it was pretty frustrating that those headlines came out without any facts behind it,” Foster said. “Are we in trouble? No. We’re not in trouble. Are we having conversations with players? Of course we are.

“We’re trying to be responsible employers and talk to a whole lot of players. This is all new to everyone, taking players away for nine weeks where you can’t get back ... it’s a big chunk of time and we’re just working it through with players.”

New Zealand and Australia each resumed domestic Super Rugby competitions when the full tournament was suspended and have selected expanded squads for upcoming international matches.


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