NZ Rugby backs October Test switch

Daniel Gilhooly
New Zealand All Blacks may still see their team in international rugby action in 2020

Southern hemisphere-hosted Tests in October can inject meaning into the international game and could even take place as soon as this year, New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson believes.

World Rugby's vision of an ongoing calendar featuring inter-hemisphere Tests in the south in October followed by clashes in the north in November gained further traction in a pivotal conference call on Thursday.

Working groups representing unions from both hemispheres emerged, favouring World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont's proposal for successive months of action at the end of every calendar year.

The October Tests would replace the traditional July fixtures in the south, something NZR chief executive Robinson believes would generate greater interest and free up other parts of the calendar.

"There's a real excitement about the possibility of the July series being moved to later in the year in October," Robinson told Newstalk ZB on Saturday.

"We think we can build a great narrative around the international calendar by virtue of doing that."

Robinson said the conference call revealed significant willingness to make key changes to the global calendar.

However, he wouldn't expand on reports in the UK that the Six Nations could be pushed back by a month to run during March and April, aligning itself with the southern hemisphere, which would reportedly operate its four-nation Rugby Championship concurrently - five months earlier than usual.

Robinson's immediate focus is this year, amidst a growing belief there will be Test rugby to look forward to.

NZR had held concerns the All Blacks wouldn't play in 2020 because of COVID-19, resulting in a worst-case financial hit for the organisation.

However, consultation work with Rugby Australia and the Pacific Islands is continuing, while Robinson won't rule out the possibility of playing the postponed home Tests against Wales and Scotland - originally scheduled for July - in October.

"We have to keep being patient as we move through Covid and understand what all the different options are," he said.

"We're really confident, all things being equal, that we can get some international rugby away near the end of the year."

Before then, NZR will launch Super Rugby Aotearoa in mid-June, involving its five franchise teams, and plans to stage its national provincial competition from September.