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New Zealand in box seat to host Rugby Championship

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Governing body Sanzaar says it favours staging the Rugby Championship entirely in New Zealand this year because of the country’s success in containing the COVID-19 virus.

Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said in a statement on Thursday the four-nation tournament can only be staged in one central location because of international travel restrictions.

Discussions with NZ Rugby were “well advanced” but government approval is still needed before the tournament involving the Wallabies, All Blacks, Springboks and Pumas is given the green light.

“We have determined that New Zealand is currently the favoured option given the COVID stability within the region,” Marinos said.

“Critical to this, however, is alignment with the New Zealand government around its requirements for this to take place.”

Staging the entire tournament in New Zealand may mean all Bledisloe Cup Tests this year are played on Kiwi soil if a trans-Tasman travel bubble hasn’t opened.

Wellington has long been mooted as host for the first Bledisloe Cup Test, understood to be pencilled in for October 10.

Previous media reports suggested Australia was being considered as a lone Rugby Championship host but a surge in coronavirus cases this month may have counted against the country.

New Zealand is presently dealing with 22 active cases – all involving overseas returnees who are in managed isolation.

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Full crowds have been allowed to watch Super Rugby Aotearoa matches. The Kiwi-only competition has run for a month without a hitch.

A New Zealand-staged Rugby Championship is likely to be run from late October to early December.

While the Springboks and Pumas squads will need to undergo two weeks of quarantine on arrival, the Australians may have arrived well in advance for one or two Bledisloe Cup encounters.

Sanzaar’s announcement comes amid the backdrop of trans-Tasman debate over the future makeup of Super Rugby, with NZ Rugby said to favour a structure that features a reduced number of Australian teams.

In his statement, Marinos said commentary questioning the viability of Sanzaar had been misplaced.

The joint venture that has governed southern hemisphere rugby competitions for 25 years would continue, he said, before conceding future competitions are likely to be revamped because of the pandemic.

“The restructuring of Super Rugby through reformatted competitions does not mean the dismantling of SANZAAR.

“There is a clear understanding that the value of the SANZAAR alliance and the pathway of Super Rugby to international rugby remains critical to the long-term success, development and competitiveness of the respective national teams.”

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Marinos confirmed the lockdown in Argentina meant players in that country won’t play any domestic rugby this year and discussions are under way to unearth meaningful match preparation for their Test players.

He said South Africa Rugby will plan a return-to-play strategy “in the weeks ahead.”

© AAP