New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Adern, has confirmed quarantine rules will be relaxed to allow the Wallabies sufficient time to prepare for next month’s two Bledisloe Cup matches against the All Blacks.
Adern spoke late on Monday to her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, in a bid to ease tensions between the two nations after new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie baulked at the scheduling, which he said favoured the All Blacks.
New Zealand Rugby confirmed on Tuesday evening the two games would be played on 11 and 18 October in Wellington and Auckland respectively.
The All Blacks had initially pencilled in the first game for 10 October, which Rennie claimed would represent too tight a turnaround for the Wallabies, because the Super Rugby AU season does not come to an end until this weekend.
Under the New Zealand government’s strict quarantine rules imposed upon arrival in the country, players would be in self-isolation and unable to train with teammates until 5 October, putting the Wallabies at a serious disadvantage in terms of preparation, according to Rennie.
But under the new guidelines, the Wallabies will now be able to train fully as a squad four days after arriving in the country, dependent on all squad members returning a negative Covid-19 test on day three.
Rennie had even gone as far as to suggest a boycott of the series, but Adern’s government, after consulting with the director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, offered to allow the Wallabies to train in small groups from the third day of quarantine and as a full squad from day six.
“The quarantine changes are more around whether or not the director general is happy for teams to be training together while they are in quarantine. The answer is yes,” Ardern said on Tuesday. “What Ashley Bloomfield has said is training can happen in three days.
“And he said because of the risk profile for Australia being lower relative to the other teams being talked about previously – that full squads can also train together from the six-day mark – so that means you can have full regular training while they’re in quarantine. Everyone is pulling out all stops to make it work.”
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said: “We’re delighted to lock in the dates and venues for the two home matches against Australia and look forward to seeing the Bledisloe Cup go on the line next month.”
The decision to play the second match on Sunday 18 October, instead of the Saturday, rules out the possibility of a clash with the election. There had been concern over voter turnout on the Saturday if there had been a clash with the match. Traditionally, elections and international rugby matches have been kept apart to ensure the best possible turnout at the polling booths.
Rugby Australia is yet to confirm acceptance of the proposal, but Ardern said she was confident the two matches would now go ahead as planned, before both teams head back to Australia for the Rugby Championship.
Asked if she thought Australia would pull out of the trip, Ardern said: “There is no reason why they should or would. I can’t see why they would make that decision.”
New Zealand was handed the two Bledisloe Tests after losing out to Australia on hosting rights for the Rugby Championship, the southern hemisphere competition involving the Wallabies, All Blacks, Argentina and world champions South Africa, due to its tough biosecurity protocols.
New Zealand’s minister for sport, Grant Robertson, said Christchurch was the most likely location for the Wallabies to quarantine, with details of match locations and times yet to be confirmed.
“It will be in a dedicated isolation facility, and they will be able to bus to and from their training grounds,” Robertson told TVNZ.