MELBOURNE, Sept 25 (Reuters) - The Wallabies boarded a charter flight to New Zealand on Friday where they will hunker down before their first Bledisloe Cup tests against the All Blacks amid tense relations between the southern hemisphere rugby powers.
A day after Rugby Australia confirmed airline Qantas had dropped its naming sponsorship of the Wallabies, ending a 30-year association with the team, Dave Rennie’s squad flew off to Christchurch in a Virgin-branded jet.
They will arrive in a country still raw about having lost the right to host the entire Rugby Championship to Australia and angry over the tournament’s schedule, which could condemn the All Blacks to spending Christmas in quarantine.
New Zealand Rugby were quick to blame Rugby Australia for their plight, saying they had backtracked on a deal to finish the tournament earlier.
“We would like to think that, actually, Australia is incredibly empathetic with the situation we are talking about because we were certainly empathetic with their players,” Rob Nichol, the New Zealand players’ union chief, told local media.
“As a result (we hoped they) would be pretty keen to help us in this situation.”
The Wallabies players may not feel like helping the All Blacks in any capacity as they head into a 14-day quarantine in Christchurch.
Nearly half the squad had only a day’s break after playing last Saturday’s Super Rugby final in Canberra.
That left scarcely enough time to bid family farewell and do some laundry before flying off to the Hunter Valley for a training camp with Rennie and his staff.
They will now spend three days confined to hotel rooms in Christchurch before being allowed to train in limited groups for a few days if none test positive for the novel coronavirus.
They will eventually be able to train as a full squad during quarantine but only have one day out of the “bubble” at the end of the two weeks before taking the field against the All Blacks in Wellington.
As hosts, Ian Foster’s All Blacks have a less arduous leadup, and many have enjoyed time off since the North Island-South Island clash three weeks ago before starting their own training camp this week.
The Wallabies have not won on New Zealand soil since 2001 in Dunedin, nor held the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested between the trans-Tasman nations, since 2002.
Rebuilding under Rennie, who will also be under intense scrutiny in his native New Zealand, the Wallabies will be looking to give home fans hope, if not wins.
“I guess our job is to play some positive footy and help our marketing people bring in another big sponsor,” Rennie told reporters.
“We’ve got new coaches and a lot of new stuff to get our heads around.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford
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