Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she was working to ensure New Zealand’s strict quarantine rules do not stop the All Blacks hosting the Wallabies in next month’s Bledisloe Cup.
New Zealand last week lost hosting rights for the November-December Rugby Championship to Australia because its strict border controls would have hampered player training.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie on Sunday raised similar concerns about the keenly watched Bledisloe Cup.
But Ardern – who faces a 17 October election in the rugby-mad nation – assured fans “we’ll be able to find a workable solution so that we can make the Bledisloe Cup happen”.
She said Australia’s Wallabies were a lower Covid-19 risk than the South African and Argentine players involved in the four-nation Rugby Championship.
“There’s a different risk profile for teams from Australia than, for instance, the likes of South Africa and Argentina, where we already have teams’ members who have tested positive for Covid,” she told reporters.
Asked if the Bledisloe fixtures could also be moved to Australia, Ardern replied: “I don’t think that’s going to be necessary.”
The Championship was switched because New Zealand’s rules would have prevented squads playing together for much of their two-week quarantine.
Rennie said he would not accept such restrictions on the Wallabies, who were reportedly pencilled in to face the All Blacks on 10 October, for what will be the New Zealander’s first Test as coach of the Australian team.
“New Zealand Rugby’s got an expectation that we jump on a plane a day after the Super Rugby final (on 19 September), have two weeks in quarantine where we can’t prepare as a team and play a Test seven days later,” he told reporters Sunday.
“Under those quarantine arrangements, I can assure you we won’t be playing a Test that weekend.”
It now appears likely the two Bledisloe Tests, which were awarded to New Zealand as a consolation for losing the Rugby Championship, will now be played on 17 and 24 October.
Ardern was unfazed at the prospect of an All Blacks Test taking place on the same date as the general election.
“New Zealanders are perfectly able to engage with the Bledisloe Cup and an election,” she said, pointing out that Tests in New Zealand were traditionally played in the evening, when polling booths will have already closed.
There is a strong possibility that at least one of the Tests will be played in front of full crowds, after Ardern said she wanted to move the country, with the exception of Auckland, to a lower alert level from 21 September.
That will remove limits on social gatherings, allowing spectators into sporting grounds.