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Bledisloe Cup in doubt after bubble closure

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The Wallabies’ schedule for the upcoming Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship has been thrown into chaos after New Zealand closed its trans-Tasman bubble with Australia for at least eight weeks.

The spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in Australia has spooked NZ, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the quarantine-free bubble closure on Friday.

The move comes at a bad time for Rugby Australia ahead of a lucrative Bledisloe Cup series against NZ and the four-nation Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies were due to face off against NZ at Eden Park on August 7 in the Bledisloe Cup opener.

The series was then set to move to Perth, where a crowd of about 60,000 was expected to watch the arch-rivals face off on August 21 in a match that also doubles as the start of their Rugby Championship.

The final match between the teams was set to take place in Wellington on August 28.

Tickets for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship series went on sale on Friday morning, but just hours later the trans-Tasman bubble was paused.

There’s still a chance the Wallabies-All Blacks fixtures can go ahead under strict COVID-safe conditions, but no formal announcements have been made as yet.

The Wallabies were initially set to meet up on the Gold Coast on Sunday for a week of preparation before flying to NZ.

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But the team may be forced to head to NZ much earlier than first planned in order to ensure the series can go ahead.

The Wallabies would need to receive an exemption from the NZ Government for that to eventuate.

The Ardern government is granting Kiwis seven days to return to NZ, and the Prime Minister indicated the Wallabies could use that window to head there as well under an economic impact exemption.

Wallabies players and staff would need to provide a negative pre-departure COVID test before being granted permission to fly to NZ.

If anyone is coming from Sydney they will need to enter 14 days hotel quarantine, while people from Melbourne will need to self isolate.

Western Australia has enforced some of the world’s tightest border restrictions since the coronavirus pandemic hit, meaning there are huge question marks surrounding the prospect of Perth hosting the August 21 fixture.

It means all three Tests between Australia and the All Blacks could be played in NZ.

The Wallabies beat France 2-1 in the recent series in Australia and the bulk of the Australian squad has remained in Queensland, with some Brumbies players returning to Canberra.

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RUGBY AU STATEMENT

New Zealand Rugby (NZR), Rugby Australia (RA) and SANZAAR will evaluate its options around The Bledisloe Cup Series and eToro Rugby Championship following the New Zealand Government’s decision to pause the trans-Tasman travel bubble today.

The New Zealand Government announced today that quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand has been paused for a period of eight weeks.

Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer Andy Marinos said: “We are working closely with New Zealand Rugby and the various Governments through different scenarios now. Rugby Australia’s position has always been to prioritise the health and safety of its players, staff and fans, and today’s announcement only reinforces that. We want to thank the Australian Government as well as the New Zealand Government for their support so far, as we aim for a positive outcome in the coming days.

“The Wallabies team have been in a secure bubble since the conclusion of the France Series, with the squad assembled on the Gold Coast. The players are regularly PCR tested and have maintained strict bio-security protocols as recommended by the Return To Play Committee and the relevant health authorities,” Marinos said.

NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson said the New Zealand Government’s latest announcement presented some obvious challenges.

The All Blacks are due to host two Bledisloe Cup Tests, with the Rugby Championship scheduled to be played primarily in New Zealand and Australia over the next two months.

“We know the uncertainty this creates is challenging for our fans, players and partners, but remain committed to finding a path forward and continuing to deliver world-class rugby in 2021.

“We are continuing to work closely with the New Zealand Government to explore the option of bringing Australia across the Tasman for the two Bledisloe Cup Tests.

“As we have throughout the Covid-19 pandemic our decisions will continue be guided by the advice of relevant Government and health authorities with the health and safety of our people at the forefront of any decisions. It’s important we evaluate all of our options before finalising any plans,” Robinson said.

SANZAAR along with its member national unions – NZR, RA, South Africa Rugby and Argentina Rugby Union – will announce any potential and necessary changes to the tournament schedule in due course.

NZR and RA will also continue to work through scenarios regarding the Buildcorp Wallaroos tour to New Zealand against the Black Ferns, and any possible travel implications.

Rugby Australia will also plan scenarios with Lakapi Samoa for the PacificAus Sport Series with the Buildcorp Wallaroos.

© AAP

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