As New Zealand prepares to enter the crucial next stage of its Covid-19 response, the effects from the country's latest pandemic setback is set to be keenly felt by the All Blacks, as Liam Napier reports.
The All Blacks are expected to play the first two tests of Ian Foster's reign in Queensland in early October – a schedule that would require a one-month quarantine period and have major implications for a warm-up match against a Moana Pacific side and the Mitre 10 Cup.
The Herald has also learned New Zealand's planned hosting of the Rugby Championship from November 7 to December 12 has encountered further complications with the three foreign teams – South Africa, Argentina and Australia – unable to quarantine in this country at the same time.
Before the latest Covid-19 outbreak quashed the ability of crowds to attend matches, New Zealand Rugby had hoped to open the test season by hosting the first Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington on October 10.
The ever-evolving picture has forced constant change, however, with New Zealand's unstable Covid-19 situation ultimately expected to lead to the All Blacks now playing their first two tests in Queensland.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is taking 46 players and 18 staff for a two-week quarantine period at the five star Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast. The All Blacks are expected to follow suit next month, with the first test likely to take place at the Gold Coast's Cbus Stadium on October 10, followed by Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on October 17.
In this likely proposal both teams would then return to New Zealand and be forced to complete another two-week quarantine period before playing more Bledisloe tests and, in a best case scenario, the Rugby Championship.
That schedule would have major ramifications for the All Blacks' desire to stage a warm-up match against a Moana Pacific side which was originally planned for October 3 at Mt Smart Stadium.
New Zealand Rugby is understood to be working through details before confirming Bledisloe Cup fixtures, but should plans progress along these lines the All Blacks would need to depart New Zealand no later than September 25 in order to fulfil Queensland's two-week quarantine.
With the Mitre 10 Cup due to start on September 11, that leaves a one week window to play the planned warm-up fixture against the Moana Pacific side. The availability of All Blacks and leading Super Rugby players for all provincial teams will be dictated by this schedule.
While Queensland has quarantine facilities that allow teams the ability to train and prepare for test matches, New Zealand's preferred options are not believed to be at the same level.
Plans are in place for Rugby Championship teams to quarantine in Queenstown but it is understood all four teams, with the All Blacks returning from Australia, cannot satisfy the two-week period at the same time.
This will require a complicated staggered approach to teams arriving in New Zealand, and adds further doubt to the tournament getting off the ground.
New Zealand Rugby is conscious of the sacrifice the Springboks, Wallabies and Pumas would make as in the current Covid-19 climate they will be expected to quarantine through Christmas on their return home. In this case of the Wallabies, they would spend six weeks in isolation away from family and friends.
Argentina are believed to be open to arriving early and potentially playing warm up fixtures against willing provincial teams, but NZ Rugby will do their best to cater to all foreign Rugby Championship teams.
While crowds may not be permitted to attend any test fixtures in either Australia or New Zealand this year, the four Rugby Championship nations are confident they will generate enough revenue from broadcasters alone to ensure the complex travel and quarantine scenarios are worthwhile.
NZ Rugby's likely agreement to send the All Blacks to Australia next month would signal the smoothing of the relationship with their neighbouring counterparts after the expressions of interest process for Super Rugby next year turned sour when Rugby Australia were effectively asked to ditch as many as three teams.
Foster will name his maiden 35-man All Blacks squad on Sunday, September 6, the day following the North versus South match in Wellington.