Confused about the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup situation, "Sanzaar politics", and the whole Rugby Championship saga? Here's what we know so far about All Blacks tests in 2020.
The All Blacks are finally playing?
Yes. Their last test was November 1 against Wales in Tokyo. 345 days later they will meet the Wallabies in the first of two home tests in 2020. They will square off at Wellington's Sky Stadium on Sunday October 11 and again a week later at Eden Park in Auckland. Both games will be 3.30pm kickoffs.
Why the Sunday games?
After threats from Wallabies coach Dave Rennie about boycotting the first Bledisloe Cup test due to not having enough preparation time in quarantine, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that the Government would ease the quarantine protocols for the team. Under the new Government guidelines, the Australian squad will 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. The Sunday kickoffs allow the Wallabies an extra day of training before they meet the All Blacks in the first Bledisloe test of the year.
Can fans attend the games?
Under the current Covid regulations, no. But this could change depending on updates on the Government's Covid-19 Alert Levels. As of now, Auckland probably won't be able to have fans in sports stadiums for a while yet but the Government will review its Alert Level on September 21. But the rest of the country is set to move to alert level 1 at 11.59pm on September 21, which is good news for the Bledisloe test in Wellington. There's been zero cases of Covid-19 in the community for two straight days now, so fingers crossed about Eden Park.
What does this mean for Mitre 10 Cup games?
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said confirmation of the Bledisloe Cup dates meant there would be a change to the Mitre 10 Cup schedule for both Bledisloe Cup weekends, and NZR would be working with provincial unions regarding these changes.
On October 11 there are three scheduled games - North Harbour v Hawke's Bay in Albany and Tasman v Bay of Plenty in Nelson at 2.05pm followed by Northland v Southland in Whangarei at 4.35pm. The next weekend Canterbury are set to host a shield challenge against Waikato, if they still have the Log o'wood, at 2.05pm. Otago v Counties Manukau play in Dunedin at the same time. While Wellington host North Harbour at 4.35pm.
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Does this mean the All Blacks will be leaving their Mitre 10 Cup teams?
Yes, unfortunately. They'll probably turn up for at least another round of Mitre 10 Cup matches. But they will have to start preparation for the Bledisloe tests soon.
Who is in the All Blacks squad?
Coach Ian Foster and his selectors named their first All Blacks squad of the year earlier this month, which included seven newcomers. The 35-man squad will take on the Wallabies in New Zealand. However, about 10 or 11 players will be added to the squad when the All Blacks leave for Australia for the Rugby Championship, with Foster revealing that squad rotation will be employed for the tournament. NZR is still in discussions with several players who have had questions about leaving their young families behind for up to 10 weeks to play in Australia, due to Covid restrictions.
Here's the list of the All Blacks' 35-man squad. And here is who NZME's chief rugby writer Liam Napier thinks could be added to Foster's squad.
What about the Rugby Championship? What's happening with that?
Oh boy, where do we start. Well, after being picked as the preferred hosts by Sanzaar, New Zealand ended up losing the hosting rights to the Rugby Championship to Australia, with the Aussies' quarantine protocols deemed to be favourable. It started a whole saga around the Government's strict quarantine, which some say cost New Zealand the tournament. The Prime Minister suggested last week that "Sanzaar politics" was also responsible for the decision to award hosting rights to Australia, a claim Robinson and Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos have both denied.
As for the schedule, we're probably a while away from that. Robinson said NZR is currently in discussions with its Sanzaar partners around the logistics of the tournament, which is set to feature 12 matches spread across 10 weeks.
There are some worries about the four-team competition, however, with several Pumas players and its coach Mario Ledesma testing positive for Covid-19. The competitiveness of South Africa and Argentina have also been questioned, given they haven't had nearly as much game time compared to the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
Will all Rugby Championship matches be played at the same venue?
Yes and no. The Rugby Championship will be in New South Wales but the first Bledisloe test on Australian soil will be played in Queensland, thanks to a request from Rugby Australia which NZR agreed to.