Jacinda Ardern is copping criticism after Australia won the hosting rights for the 2020 Rugby Championship over New Zealand.
Australia plucked the hosting rights off New Zealand and will host the four-nations championship over six weeks in November-December, with five rounds in NSW and one at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The championship green light comes despite new COVID-19 cases in the Argentina camp, including coach Mario Ledesma, and the World Cup-winning Springboks requiring their government to relax travel restrictions.
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New Zealand rugby fans are fuming, with Prime Minister Ardern under fire for reportedly refusing to budge on her government’s strict coronavirus protocols.
After Ardern said “SANZAAR politics” (world rugby’s governing body) was the reason the Kiwis lost the hosting rights, New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey shifted the blame right back onto the PM.
“This came down to the quarantine regulations being too restrictive for the championship,” Impey told the NZ Herald.
“The situation in New South Wales is that all teams have to undertake the 14 days quarantine period, during which they can train at full capacity while in quarantine.
“They’ll need to have testing during and after the quarantine period, as well as having daily wellness examinations to make sure there are no signs of illness.
“If they do seem ill, they’re isolated and tested, and once a negative result is returned, they can join the group.”
Impey said New Zealand was the “clear favourite” just a few months ago but the government’s quarantine restrictions did them no favours.
“A few months ago New Zealand was the only option. When you boil it all down (the lost bid) it’s one thing. It’s quarantine,” Impey told Newstalk ZB.
“The New Zealand situation was that on days one to three there had to be individual isolation. Then, following a negative test, from days four to seven, they could form bubbles of 15 that can train inside the bubble.
“Then, after a second negative test, they could expand the bubble to 25 from days eight to 14. If there was a negative test, then it was all over.
“That’s what the decision to go to Australia came down. The difference in quarantine regulations.”
When asked if New Zealand’s economy would lose millions because of the decision, Impey said he feared it would be more.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
SANZAAR boss hits back at Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand Rugby Players' Association boss Rob Nichol also said the country’s quarantine restrictions were to blame, however Ardern dismissed that notion.
“We put in a huge amount of effort into that bid, worked really hard to accommodate the needs of the tournament and the players, even creating a regime where they could be training within three days of arrival in New Zealand,” Ardern said.
“If we are not successful, I’d say it would be a result of being caught up in SANZAAR politics.
“The arrangements that we proposed as part of the bid did include training while in quarantine.
“We worked very hard with [Ministry of] Health and the tournament organisers to make it work in a way that looked after people's health and didn't jeopardise the tournament. It would mean they would've been able to train within three days of arrival.”
Ardern’s comments left SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos gobsmacked.
“I have no idea, just a very interesting reflection point she's got there. [Politics weren't involved] in this decision at all, and all four parties were at the table,” Marinos told Newstalk ZB.
“I can't stress enough the whole emphasis right from the beginning… we had to make sure it ticked the box and it was commercially viable and sustainable.
“Secondly our teams would be able to come into a quarantine regime that would enable them to prepare and get themselves in the best possible shape.”
And NZR counterpart Mark Robinson agreed.
“No I don’t understand [Ardern's comments], and it’s certainly not the case. There's a lot of speculation going around,” he said.
“We are very clear, SANZAAR have been very clear in their statement. We gave it our absolute best because we know the significant impact it would have made in this country.
“We know that having six or so big match days around the country... as well as giving the nation a lift, quite apart from the economic impact that would have had, it was something that was dear to us all.”
Fans and social media commentators have also been left up in arms.
I know who I believe...The Ardern government is big on promises and big on dropping the ball. jc Jacinda Ardern hits back at claims Government to blame for Rugby Championship loss to Australia - NZ Herald https://t.co/t0mnAz32XH— Judith Collins (@JudithCollinsMP) September 11, 2020
This is an appalling miss - thanks Labour! Bunch of wimps! Blame game: Ardern hits back at Rugby Championship claims— Gunner Sugden (@HvGunWillTravel) September 11, 2020
Not so Roger. Of course we are thrilled to see the old NPC back, but to lose the All Blacks playing the Rugby Championship here? A disgrace.— Merv Robertson (@MervRobertson) September 11, 2020
Ardern's inept leadership and Covid management has meant that a country with thousands of active cases gets the Rugby Championship - and we, a country that supposedly “eliminated” the virus, doesn’t.#nzpol #nzelection #covid19nz— New Zealand Patriot (@The_Ark_of_NZ) September 11, 2020
Aussies delighted to snare Rugby Championship
The 12 matches will be mostly double-headers, utilising ANZ Stadium, Bankwest Stadium and McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.
The Wallabies will also play two Bledisloe Cup Tests in New Zealand preceding the tournament in October.
“I'm delighted for us Australian rugby and the fans of Australian rugby because it’s going to be the equivalent of a mini World Cup, played over six weeks and you couldn't get a better finish to the year with world-class rugby played in Australia,” Rugby Australia boss Rob Clarke said.
Clarke said the proven approach of the NSW government in accommodating the Warriors from New Zealand in the NRL had helped them secure the tournament.
“Quarantine requirements that we have here, a proven track record of how the NSW government and premier (Gladys) Berejiklian is managing COVID here and keeping the state running worked to our advantage.”