WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby says it has earmarked a six-week block in November-December to host the Rugby Championship after the southern hemisphere’s governing body SANZAAR confirmed the country as its preferred host for the annual competition.
The Championship sees the national teams of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina play each other home and away but with international travel restricted due to COVID-19 SANZAAR is aiming to play all the games in a ‘hub’ this year.
New Zealand has virtually eliminated the novel coronavirus domestically, with the current 27 cases all coming from returning citizens in quarantine facilities.
“We have determined that New Zealand is currently the favoured option given the COVID stability within the region,” SANZAAR said in a statement, adding that it was “well advanced in option planning with New Zealand Rugby”.
New Zealand’s government said on Thursday it was keen for the country to host the tournament.
“We’re looking to play probably from early November until mid-December across six weeks,” NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson told reporters on a conference call, adding it was too soon to discuss the format and scheduling.
New Zealand’s borders are still closed to anyone but citizens, though exemptions have been granted to essential workers. The teams would need to complete a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival and Robinson said SANZAAR would cover those costs as well as the costs of the competition.
While New Zealand and Australia have each set up competitions for their own Super Rugby teams, players from South Africa and Argentina have not returned to action yet, which could leave the Springboks and Pumas undercooked.
“We are hopeful they will have rugby under their belts,” Robinson said. “We are entertaining prospects they come to New Zealand and play games here as well.”We want to work with them as best as possible.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Himani Sarkar/Stephen Coates/Peter Rutherford