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4-nation Rugby Championship to be played as 6 doubleheaders

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The four-nation Rugby Championship will be played as six doubleheader matches over a six-week period starting in Brisbane on Nov. 7.

Sanzaar, the governing body for the tournament which includes Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, said the non-Australian teams would be required to observe all health regulations around their squads as imposed by the New South Wales and Queensland governments. All sides will operate within a bio-secure bubble during the tournament.

Australia won hosting rights for the Rugby Championship over New Zealand due to more relaxed quarantine conditions. The reduction of COVID-19 restrictions in New South Wales means stadiums can operate at 50% capacity which will allow for potentially 40,000 spectators at Olympic stadium, where the tournament ends on Dec. 12.

Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium has also been permitted to fill to half capacity, meaning 25,000 fans could attend.

The final match doubles as the fourth Bledisloe Cup test between the Wallabies and All Blacks, with the trans-Tasman rivals playing two in New Zealand next month before the Rugby Championship begins.

New Zealand Rugby said it was disappointed with Thursday's schedule announcement because it will force the All Blacks to spend Christmas Day in quarantine.

The All Blacks will play the Wallabies in the final match of the tournament in Sydney on Dec. 12, meaning the New Zealand players __ many of whom have young children __ will not have completed their 14-days of mandatory isolation until after Christmas. The New Zealand government could grant exemptions for some players to leave quarantine earlier but that is unlikely.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said in a statement Thursday he is disappointed organizers Sanzaar have not been more sensitive to the quarantine regulations that will apply to the All Blacks when they return home.

“We were working on the understanding and all our planning and scheduling was on the basis that the All Blacks last match would be on Dec. 5 to give our players and management time to get home, undertake the 14 days’ quarantine back in New Zealand, and then be with their families for Christmas, as will be the case for the other three teams in the tournament,” Robinson said.

“We understand the commercial considerations in the scheduling. However, the well-being of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also. We are committed to playing in the Rugby Championship and we know the scheduling of matches has been a complex and dynamic issue to work through, especially with quarantine protocols. But we haven’t agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement.”

ANZ Stadium and Bankwest Stadium will each host two rounds while one will be played at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Nov. 28, with the Wallabies against Argentina and South Africa taking on New Zealand.

The Rugby Championship will be the Springboks’ first tests since winning the World Cup in Japan last year.

Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said it had taken a lot of planning to get the tournament locked in after its COVID-19-forced postponement.

“While the rescheduling and reconfiguration of the Super Rugby season has not been ideal, all the member unions have been committed in getting rugby back on the field,” Marinos said.

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Rugby Championship schedule (times to be determined):

Nov. 7, Brisbane: Argentina vs. South Africa, x-Australia vs. New Zealand

Nov. 14, Bankwest Stadium, Sydney: New Zealand vs. Argentina, South Africa vs. Australia

Nov. 21, ANZ Stadium, Sydney: New Zealand vs. South Africa, Australia vs. Argentina

Nov. 28, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle: Argentina vs. Australia, South Africa vs. New Zealand

Dec. 5, Bankwest Stadium, Sydney: Argentina vs. New Zealand, Australia vs. South Africa

Dec. 12: ANZ Stadium, Sydney: South Africa vs. Argentina, x-Australia vs. New Zealand

x- Bledisloe Cup tests; first two are Oct. 11 and Oct. 18 in New Zealand.

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

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