Rugby bosses are set to meet tonight on if and where this year's Rugby Championship will take place. Should the tournament be called off, New Zealand could end up playing the best test schedule in the professional era, writes Gregor Paul.
One more giant, potentially irreparable crack may appear in the Sanzaar alliance tomorrow morning if the 2020 Rugby Championship is canned overnight, paving the way for South Africa to conduct an old-fashioned three-test tour of New Zealand.
The All Blacks may also end up playing a test against Japan if it is agreed the Rugby Championship is going to be too difficult to stage this year and with the Bledisloe Cup also a near certainty to progress regardless of what else happens, New Zealand could host six tests before Christmas in what might be one of the best schedules created in the professional age.
New Zealand Rugby has been building contingency scenarios to ensure the All Blacks still have a meaningful test programme this year should the Rugby Championship not go ahead.
Broadcast and sponsorship contracts are locked into the Rugby Championship so if it is axed, NZR needs to have a way to ensure it is providing stakeholders with alternative content around which they can leverage their investment.
The preference remains to play a full Rugby Championship given the contractual obligation to do so, but the contingency, which could see the All Blacks play two Bledisloe Cup tests, three against the Boks and one against Japan in New Zealand, is starting to stack as more attractive to fans and stakeholders, while it also comes with a lower number of practical and logistic complications.
It is believed the Springboks have been taken with the idea of a test series in New Zealand as they would be able to play games against provincial opposition as part of their preparation.
Japan, who have turned down the chance to be part of an expanded Six Nations later this year, are thought to be considering holding a training camp in New Zealand to get around visa restrictions.
It is understood that head coach Jamie Joseph, who is currently in New Zealand, can't return to Japan as he doesn't have a valid visa as the Japanese Government have put a hold on issuing them while they battle Covid-19.
NZR has sounded out Japan about playing a test as part of that camp, believing that the Kiwi public would be engaged by the prospect given the quality of rugby the Brave Blossoms produced at last year's World Cup.
Sanzaar bosses are due to meet virtually overnight to determine the fate of the Rugby Championship – deciding both if and where it could potentially be played.
Australia has put together what many consider to be the more attractive proposal to host the competition as the Queensland Government has offered financial incentives to support the event and created a health safety framework that will allow between 50 per cent to 75 per cent stadium occupancy as well as looser quarantine requirements that will enable all visiting teams to enter the country at the same time and for the whole squad to be able to train together on arrival.
New Zealand, which was the preferred host a few months ago, is continuing to insist that visiting teams can't be in quarantine at the same time and that while in their 14-day isolation, training bubbles can't exceed 10 people.
However, New Zealand is tracking towards being in level one by the time games are played and that means stadiums could be full and the revenue created significantly higher than it would be playing in Australia.
Just as significant is the desire and ability of SkyTV to act as host broadcaster should the Championship be played in New Zealand.
SkyTV wants the Championship to be here whereas it is believed Fox Sports, the rights holder across the Tasman, is not so keen to have to incur the logistics costs that would come from having the games in Australia.
But the question of where to play is secondary as the bigger issue is whether South Africa and Argentina can safely commit to taking part given the issues they have around player access and match readiness.
Both nations have significant numbers of players based in Europe and under World Rugby regulations, they won't be allowed to leave their clubs until October 18.
South Africa's domestic players have not played since Super Rugby shut down in March and aren't due to start the Currie Cup until early October.
They want their players to have had at least three - but preferably five - games under their belts before they set off to wherever the Rugby Championship is due to be played.
With the Rugby Championship slated to start on November 7, the Boks are worried they will be woefully under-prepared but are willing to look at the New Zealand series as it will start later and afford lower intensity build-up matches.
Argentina's position is even less certain given some of their squad members have recently tested positive for Covid-19.
An update is expected tomorrow.