The news that Australia has earned hosting rights of the Rugby Championship has added an extra complication for New Zealand Rugby as the All Blacks prepare for a long stay across the Tasman.
New Zealand Rugby will support any All Black who isn't comfortable with participating in the Rugby Championship, CEO Mark Robinson has confirmed.
After naming his first 35-man squad last Sunday, All Blacks coach Ian Foster will significantly increase that number by up to 11 more players before venturing to Australia. All players will be given the choice to opt out of the Rugby Championship, given the length of time away from family.
That decision will be particularly acute for Beauden Barrett, whose wife Hannah is expecting a baby girl by the end of the month. Recent first-time fathers Richie Mo'unga and TJ Perenara face similar predicaments.
"We want to make sure whoever is representing the All Blacks does so in a safe environment where they feel happy and comfortable. Some of those conversations started earlier today with understanding where players and management line up with their different circumstances," said Robinson.
"We are hugely supportive of our players we know they have gone through an incredibly tough time this year. This challenge of what they are about to undertake is going to be significant and we will back them and their families in whatever way we need to ensure they are looked after. If that means they are unable to assemble or travel we'll hear that out and support that."
While NZR may have to foot the $3000 per-person quarantine bill when the All Blacks return home, Robinson suggested moves were afoot to avoid players being asked to stay in isolation through Christmas, with the Rugby Championship possibly concluding earlier than the proposed December 12 finish date.
"Those conversations have been active between Sanzaar, Rugby Australia and New Zealand for some time. Both countries have schedules where the dates of games could be played on the last round on [December] 5th or 6th.
"We know in Australia there are a lot of teams that have been away from their homes for some time. Our guys will be on the road for nine or 10 weeks so we're very mindful of where they'll be at Christmas."
In something of a tongue-biting exercise, Robinson also rebuffed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's suggestion that Sanzaar politics is the reason Australia will host the Rugby Championship.
Not long after it was confirmed Australia had gazumped New Zealand to host the Rugby Championship from November 7, Robinson did his best to be diplomatic.
When it came time to address Ardern's pointed remarks about Sanzaar politics deciding the host nation, however, Robinson placed blame for losing the tournament squarely on the Government's strict quarantine requirements.
"We don't believe that is the case," Robinson said when probed about Ardern's comment. "It's been very clear from all of the statements being made that the quarantine protocols were very material in this decision and meant the Australians had a very positive environment that teams could fly into and prepare.
"We're obviously disappointed for our fans and all the rugby followers around New Zealand.
"We're respectful of the Government protocols as they stand in New Zealand and recognise the great work that's been done over the past six months in keeping our country safe, but it's hard to ignore the facts of the key part it had to play in the decision."
Robinson outlined stringent Government quarantine protocols would have forced the Springboks, Wallabies and Pumas to remain isolated in their respective hotels for four days after arriving in New Zealand. If players then returned a negative Covid-19 test from days 5-7 they were permitted to train in bubbles of 15. Days 8-14 those bubbles were then increased to 25.
With foreign teams bringing squads of up to 46 players, plus management, to safeguard against injuries in closed border situations, such restrictions left New Zealand Rugby well behind their Australian counterparts with their bid allowing teams to train with full squads from the moment they arrive.
After three months of negotiating with the Government and health officials, NZR hit an insurmountable roadblock.
"There were a lot of conversations and a lot of trying to understand each other's perspectives but ultimately that was the best set of protocols they could arrive at. Any attempt to get a larger number than 25 was unsuccessful. The main reason put forward was it didn't sit with health protocols.
"When we were considering the position of the Pumas and South Africa, who we all feel a huge amount of sympathy for with what they're having to work through at the moment and with the lack of rugby they've had, them landing and then being subjected to those protocols was going to make things incredibly difficult.
"We worked incredibly hard to see if we could lessen the restrictions of those bubbles but that is ultimately where the Government landed and that had a major part to play in the decision."
The trickledown effect of losing the Rugby Championship will rob venues throughout the country of the chance to host potentially sold out crowds, while New Zealand's hospitality businesses can appreciate exactly why federal and state Governments threw financial support behind Australia's pitch to largely stage the six-week, 12 match tournament in Sydney.
Asked if New Zealand would lose millions from not hosting the Rugby Championship, Robinson said: "The economic impact is a bit higher than that for a tournament of this kind. There's a lot of business owners we certainly feel for at the moment. It was one way we felt rugby could put a whole lot of smiles on faces and improve the mood of the country but also for bars, cafes, hotels to be full, for people to be travelling into centres to watch these games.
"All that stuff we were hopeful we could see happen but it's not to be."
New Zealand will host two Bledisloe Cup fixtures, expected to be played on October 17 and 24 in Auckland and Wellington, before leaving for up to 10 weeks in Australia.
"We're aware there's things like the election which is not insignificant and Labour weekend and being mindful of getting back to Level 1."