The 2021 Rugby Championship has a clearer route to its finish line after SANZAAR confirmed Queensland as the new host for the remaining four rounds of fixtures.
This year’s tournament was thrown into chaos after the All Blacks refused to travel to Perth as planned on Sunday, causing a delay to their third Bledisloe match against Australia on August 28.
Organisers are now hoping that game can go ahead at the Optus Stadium in Perth on September 4, with three Queensland venues selected to then take over hosting for four double-header weekends.
Upcoming matches were to be hosted in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra, but Covid-19 outbreaks in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory mean they’re in lockdown.
Europe and South Africa had each been discussed as potential alternatives to host the remaining matches, but SANZAAR has elected to keep the competition in the southern hemisphere.
Community cases of the coronavirus ’ Delta variant had also been detected in parts of New Zealand, causing concern as to whether the All Blacks would be able to travel without quarantining.
All teams will be based at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast as part of a tournament bubble, where they’ll be expected to have ‘no contact with hotel workers, contractors and the general public’.
But SANZAAR, Queensland’s government and the respective unions have now come to suitable arrangements regarding travel, accommodation and quarantine measures.
Brendan Morris, chief executive of SANZAAR—the Rugby Championship’s governing body—said: "We thought last year was tough when we had to implement a Tri-nations tournament in Australia with South Africa absent due to the pandemic, but the current disruption caused by the 'delta variant' of COVID-19 has seen government authorities tighten up border bio-security measures substantially.
"This is totally understandable but after exploring several options, including moving the tournament to South Africa and even Europe, we now look forward with excitement to the remainder of The Rugby Championship in Queensland. Indeed, I am delighted on behalf of the SANZAAR stakeholders that we can now complete this world-class rugby tournament.”
The third round of the tournament will feature a unique brace of Sunday fixtures on September 12 at the CBUS Super Stadium on the Gold Coast, which will also host Round 6 (October 2).
Two more double-headers are also set for Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and the QLD Country Bank Stadium in Townsville on September 18 and September 25, respectively.
As for the postponed second-round clash between New Zealand and the Wallabies, Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos added he was “hopeful we can get confirmation in the next 24-48 hours.”
Marinos had expressed disappointment in how New Zealand Rugby (NZR) revealed the All Blacks wouldn't be travelling, while Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said he was "bloody angry" with the situation.
Table leaders South Africa and Argentina are due to arrive in Queensland by Friday, having recently completed two back-to-back fixtures in Gqeberha.
The Springboks will face Australia in consecutive rounds before completing their tournament against New Zealand, while the All Blacks take on Argentina in their first double-header.
New Rugby Championship Schedule
Round 2 (Optus Stadium, Perth)
TBD: Australia v New Zealand
Round 3 (CBUS Super Stadium, Gold Coast)
Sunday, September 12: New Zealand v Argentina
Sunday, September 12: South Africa v Australia
Round 4 (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, September 18: Argentina v New Zealand
Saturday, September 18: Australia v South Africa
Round 5 (QLD Country Bank Stadium, Townsville)
Saturday, September 25: New Zealand v South Africa
Saturday, September 25: Australia v Argentina
Round 6 (CBUS Super Stadium, Gold Coast)
Saturday, October 2: South Africa v New Zealand
Saturday, October 2: Argentina v Australia
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