(Adds New Zealand Rugby CEO response)
MELBOURNE, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Relations between southern hemisphere rugby powers Australia and New Zealand have plunged to their “lowest ebb” but can be repaired if the nations work together to shape the future of the game, Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said.
Australia and New Zealand have been at loggerheads in recent months, trading barbs over the 2021 format for Super Rugby and the scheduling of the four-nation Rugby Championship.
“There is respect there, but the relationship is at probably the lowest ebb it’s ever been at,” McLennan told New Zealand broadcaster Sky Sports.
“But I’m trying my hardest to fix that over time.
“I think the fundamental issue from us is that (New Zealand) have got to respect our position.”
The breakdown in relations has come amid financial pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty over the future of southern hemisphere competition following South Africa’s decision to pull teams from Super Rugby.
McLennan said Australia had been “greatly offended” when New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced mid-year it planned to organise a 2021 tournament involving its five Super Rugby teams without consulting its southern hemisphere partners.
He said Australia were willing to regard that as “water under the bridge”, however, and were committed to forming a trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand.
NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson dismissed McLennan’s comments as “a bit of bluster”, and said RA had invited he and NZR Chairman Brett Impey to Australia during the Nov. 7-Dec. 12 Rugby Championship.
“Clearly (RA) have a strategy and narrative that they want to portray,” he told reporters in a video call on Thursday.
“We don’t operate like that but respect if they want to. We will carry on engaging about the future opportunities with them and will just have to largely get on with our own business and ignore some of the things that are said like that.
“We have got a game that is battling for survival at all levels.” (Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Kim Coghill)
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