The 2020 Rugby Championship will be played in Australia, but a number of new positive COVID-19 cases amongst Argentinian players and coaches threatens to derail the tournament.
New Zealand was initially touted as SANZAAR’s preferred host country for the tournament, with a hub for all four teams in Queenstown a proposed option, but better commercial modelling and a second wave of coronavirus in Auckland has led to the six-week competition being played in Australia instead.
However, the Wallabies will still need to make the trip across the ditch for the opening two Bledisloe Cup matches of the year, to be played in October before they and the All Blacks make the return trip for the start of the Rugby Championship.
The six-week tournament will be played in New South Wales, with the exception of one round – likely to include an Australia versus New Zealand fixture – in Queensland. Specific dates, times and venues for all of the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup will be announced in the coming weeks, however one of the Bledisloe fixtures in New Zealand is expected to be played on October 24, the same day as the AFL grand final.
While there are concerns in South Africa about the Springboks’ lack of match practice compared to the All Blacks and Wallabies, they’re not the only team with a major hurdle to overcome before participating in the tournament, after Argentina coach Mario Ledesma and a number of players returned positive tests for COVID-19 last week.
Ledesma and his assistants, Nicolas Fernandez Miranda and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, all tested positive for the virus, as did players Felipe Ezcurra, Matias Moroni, Tomas Cubelli, Matias Orlando and Mateo Carreras. According to a statement from the Pumas, all eight are asymptomatic.
South Africa’s participation is yet to be confirmed, and is reliant on Springboks players having an opportunity to get some gametime under their belts before the tournament.
“The progress and impact on of the pandemic has varied from country to country and international sporting competition is currently suspended in South Africa,” SAZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said.
“The Springboks’ participation will be dependent on the relaxation of that suspension as well as overcoming a number of other logistical challenges including the opening of international air borders. South Africa is only expected to return to competitive play next month, leaving a relatively short time to prepare.”