SANZAAR, the organisation gathering the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, has said New Zealand is the “favoured option” for a 2020 Rugby Championship held in one location.

This year’s edition of the national team tournament is currently scheduled for August 8 to September 27 and was due to kick off with a game between Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne. However, the escalating COVID-19 situation in the state of Victoria means this is unlikely to happen.

In a statement today (Thursday), SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos addressed “recent media commentary” around the long-term future of the organisation, the future structure of its competitions and the rest of the 2020 playing calendar amidst the impact of the global pandemic.

He said: “Having successfully restarted Super Rugby this year in Australia and New Zealand our focus is now on The Rugby Championship (TRC) that is set to be played in one central location. We have determined that New Zealand is currently the favoured option given the COVID stability within the region.

“Critical to this, however, is alignment with the New Zealand government around its requirements for this to take place. SANZAAR is well advanced in option planning with New Zealand Rugby, which in turn, is now seeking New Zealand government approval. It is hoped that details on the TRC will be announced in the near future.”

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) CEO Mark Robinson said a six-week tournament staged from early November until mid-December is being assessed, with SANZAAR to handle the costs of quarantine measures for the Australia, South Africa and Argentina teams.

“It’s a significant opportunity for the game here, and for the entire country which we’re excited about and eager to begin work with a number of key stakeholders, most notably the government, to see what we can make happen,” Robinson said, according to the Stuff.co.nz website.

“We’re looking to play from early-ish November until early to mid-December, probably across six weeks. The actual format and draws and kick-off times, it’s too early to say with much certainty.”

Sports and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson said the government is open to hosting the Championship, subject to the games being held safely and having the “appropriate facilities” available for players to isolate and train upon entry to New Zealand.

New Zealand is being looked upon as a good option to host the Rugby Championship, with the country having blazed a trail for safely returning fans to sports venues with its Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament. Rugby Australia has also hosted its own domestic Super Rugby tournament, and there has been talk of late of the two bodies joining forces to form a trans-Tasman competition that would exclude South African and Argentinian clubs.

In response, Marinos said today: “The SANZAAR Joint Venture is not being dismantled. The member unions remain committed to the long-term future as a joint venture.

“We all recognise the current challenges we face in trying to settle on any potential Super Rugby competition structures moving forward under the pandemic environment, however the restructuring of Super Rugby through reformatted competitions does not mean the dismantling of SANZAAR.

“There is a clear understanding that the value of the SANZAAR alliance and the pathway of Super Rugby to international rugby remains critical to the long-term success, development and competitiveness of the respective national teams. Our record in cross-hemisphere matches and World Cup tournaments are evidence of this.”