SANZAAR and tournament hosts, Rugby Australia (RA), have announced the venues and schedule for the 2020 Rugby Championship (TRC), with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) immediately expressing their “disappointment” amid concerns the plan will mean the All Blacks will spend Christmas Day in COVID-19 isolation.

Earlier this month, SANZAAR, the organisation gathering the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, decided that Australia will host the 2020 TRC in November and December. This was firmed up today (Thursday) as it was announced that the entire 12-match, six-week tournament will be played in Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney between November 7 and December 12.  

The tournament will kick-off with Round One in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on November 7 before moving to New South Wales (NSW) for the remaining five rounds, with matches to be played in Sydney at Bankwest Stadium and ANZ Stadium, and McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.

Inbound teams Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa will be required to observe all health regulations around their squads as imposed by the NSW and Queensland governments. The teams will be kept separate by operating within a ‘bubble’ during this period.

SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said: “While the rescheduling and reconfiguration of the Super Rugby season has not been ideal all the member unions have been committed to getting rugby back on the field and the culmination of this will be The Rugby Championship in Australia.

“It is fantastic to be able to take matches to three cities – Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney. The six double-header Saturdays are a first for the tournament and will produce an exciting feast of rugby for spectators at the venues who will actually be getting two world-class international tests for the price of one entry ticket.

“Thanks to our committed family of broadcasters this action will also be delivered to the living rooms of our overseas rugby fans providing a rugby feast similar to what we experienced a year ago with the Rugby World Cup.”

The hosting rights award came after a detailed assessment of submissions from RA and NZR. The tournament was moved from its traditional August-September window due to the ongoing effects of the global pandemic.

Indeed, New Zealand had been expected to host after SANZAAR in July said it was the “favoured option” for a 2020 TRC held in one location. However, New Zealand’s comparatively stricter quarantine regulations is said to have put paid to this plan.

RA and NZR previously announced that the first two rounds of the four-match 2020 Bledisloe Cup will be played in Wellington and Auckland on October 11 and 18, respectively. The Wallabies versus All Blacks TRC matches on November 7 and December 12 will double up as the last two Bledisloe matches.

However, it is the scheduling of the final game at ANZ Stadium that has been questioned by NZR. The governing body has claimed it was led to believe the All Blacks’ final game would be held on December 5. Under government restrictions, that would have meant their players would exit a mandatory two-week isolation on their return to New Zealand well before December 25.

However, the December 12 date means that if government restrictions aren’t relaxed, the All Blacks would be forced into hotel isolation on Christmas Day. NZR CEO Mark Robinson said: “We were working on the understanding and all our planning and scheduling was on the basis that the All Blacks last match would be on December 5 to give our players and management time to get home, undertake the 14 days’ quarantine back in New Zealand, and then be with their families for Christmas, as will be the case for the other three teams in the tournament.

“We understand the commercial considerations in the scheduling. However, the wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also. We are committed to playing in the Rugby Championship and we know the scheduling of matches has been a complex and dynamic issue to work through, especially with quarantine protocols, but we haven’t agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement.

“We will now work through the issues with Rugby Australia and SANZAAR and believe that there are other solutions within the Rugby Championship window.”

Image: ANZ Stadium