PMs make late night call to save Bledisloe Cup
Next month's Bledisloe Cup series could be back on after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called Scott Morrison late last night with a peace offering to try and salvage the two rugby Tests.
Still moping after being replaced by Australia as the host of this year's southern hemisphere Rugby Championship, the Kiwis are in grave danger of also losing the two additional Bledisloe Cup Tests against the Wallabies because of their strict biosecurity regulations.
Rugby Australia has threatened to boycott the first Test - currently pencilled in for October 10 - unless the Kiwis change their quarantine regulations and allow the Wallabies to train together while in quarantine.
Under New Zealand's current rules, the Wallabies would have to spend two weeks in isolation before they could begin practising together while the All Blacks would be free to train together the whole time.
But the series may still be saved after Ardern confirmed this morning that she personally called Morrison on Monday night to say that New Zealand would agree to relax its rules for the Wallabies so they could train together and prepare for the Test series.
"We just want to make sure that, you know, we go there and they go here and it is a fair arrangement,'' Ardern told New Zealand radio.
"There is no reason for them not to. Given the risk profile for Australians, it is very different to some of the teams we were talking about as part of the Sanzaar tournament.
"The director general of health has already said 'look, training can happen after three days - full squads at six'.
"Pretty flexible arrangement there, and given that they will be coming straight off the back of another competition (Super Rugby AA) I imagine they would want a few rest days anyway.
"So, quarantine shouldn't be an issue. We just want to make sure we go there and we go there and it is a fair arrangement.''
RA has not responded to New Zealand's change of heart though officials had been adamant the first Test should be pushed back until October 17.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster welcomed the New Zealand government's decision to relax the rules as the All Blacks sent out a tweet to the Wallabies saying "see you here next month".
"It has basically put us in a situation where we can offer the Aussies nine full days of quarantine and preparing four days once they are out, which is 13 days by my maths,'' Foster said.
Originally scheduled to be held in Australia on October 10 and October 17, the additional Bledisloe Cup matches were switched to the other side of the ditch to console brooding Kiwi rugby officials after the New Zealand government dropped the ball and lost the chance to host The Rugby Championship - which includes Argentina and world champions South Africa.
Tournament organisers cited Australia's more flexible biosecurity regulations as one of the main reasons for moving the Rugby Championship.
Kiwis furious over rugby snub
Earlier, the still sulking after Australia pinched The Rugby Championship from under their noses, New Zealand officials have been warned they risk losing next month's two rescheduled Bledisloe Cup matches as well if they don't change the game dates to give the Wallabies a fair chance of winning.
Every Australian knows the Kiwis will stop at nothing to win at rugby but the latest underhand proposal from across the Tasman - which will prevent the Wallabies from training together while the All Blacks are free to practice - marks a new low.
High level talks are taking place to try and save the series but new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie says there's no way Australia will agree to New Zealand's petty demands.
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"It's unacceptable," Rennie said. "We won't be playing a Test under those sorts of conditions."
The dispute centres around when the first two Bledisloe Cup matches will be played in New Zealand.
Originally scheduled to be held in Australia on October 10 and October 17, they were switched to the other side of the ditch to console brooding Kiwi rugby officials after the New Zealand government dropped the ball and lost the chance to host The Rugby Championship - which includes Argentina and world champions South Africa.
Tournament organisers moved it to Australia because New Zealand's strict COVID regulations unfairly disadvantaged visiting teams because they can't start training together until they have completed 14 days in quarantine, whereas under Australia's regulations, squads can practice together from the moment they land in the country, as long as they remain in their biosecurity bubble.
NZR's shifty plan to hold the first Bledisloe Cup match on October 10 means the Wallabies would only have five days to prepare, which is why Australia has asked for it to be pushed back a week.
"New Zealand Rugby's got an expectation that we jump on a plane a day after (Saturday's) Super Rugby final, have two weeks in quarantine where we can't prepare as a team and play a Test (less than) seven days later and under those quarantine arrangements," Rennie said.
"I can assure you we won't be playing a Test that weekend (October 10)."
For Rennie, in his first season as Wallabies coach after replacing Michael Cheika, the prospect of starting his tenure with two Tests away to the All Blacks is already daunting enough but even more challenging given he is trying to rebuild for the 2023 World Cup.
In announcing his first squad, an expanded 44-man roster with two more players to be added from overseas clubs under recent changes to the Giteau Law, Rennie has picked 16 new caps while wielding the axe on a handful of underperforming seniors, including three members of last year's World Cup squad: backrowers Isi Naisarani and Jack Dempsey and centre Tevita Kuridrani.
"We've picked on form," Rennie said. "We've constantly talked about earning the right to play and we think others have played better."
With an average age of just 25, the squad includes eight players who made their Super Rugby debuts this season, including former Junior Wallabies Will Harrison, Noah Lolesio, Harry Wilson, Trevor Hosea and Angus Bell.
The captain, likely to be Michael Hooper, has not been announced yet but will be revealed when the squad assembles after next weekend's Super Rugby AU grand final between the Brumbies and the Reds in Canberra.
"No one will be happy if we keep saying that we've picked a squad for the World Cup and we don't get any results for the next few years but we've picked, obviously, with an eye to the future," Rennie said.
"A lot of these young men have been given their opportunity at Super rugby level and they've fronted and so we're going to try and get them in our environment and accelerate their development further."
Wallabies squad for 2020 Test season
(Test caps, Super Rugby side and age)
Jermaine Ainsley (3 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 25)
Allan Alaalatoa (37 Tests, Brumbies)
Tom Banks (6 Tests, Brumbies, 26)
Angus Bell* (uncapped, NSW Waratahs, 19)
Filipo Daugunu* (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 25)
Pone Fa'amausili* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 23)
Folau Fainga'a (12 Tests, Brumbies, 25)
Jake Gordon (1 Test, NSW Waratahs, 27)
Ned Hanigan (20 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 25)
Will Harrison* (uncapped, NSW Waratahs, 21)
Dane Haylett-Petty (37 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 31)
Reece Hodge (39 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
Michael Hooper (99 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 28)
Tom Horton* (uncapped, NSW Waratahs, 23)
Trevor Hosea* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 20)
Len Ikitau* (uncapped, Brumbies, 21)
Harry Johnson-Holmes (1 Test, NSW Waratahs, 23)
Marika Koroibete (28 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 28)
Noah Lolesio* (uncapped, Brumbies, 20)
Jack Maddocks (7 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 23)
Tate McDermott* (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 21)
Fraser McReight* (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 21)
James O'Connor (52 Tests, Queensland Reds, 30)
Brandon Paenga-Amosa (4 Tests, Queensland Reds, 24)
Hunter Paisami* (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 22)
Jordan Petaia (3 Tests, Queensland Reds, 20)
Matt Philip (3 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
Joe Powell (4 Tests, Brumbies, 26)
James Ramm* (uncapped, NSW Waratahs, 22)
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (21 Tests, Queensland Reds, 23)
Pete Samu (9 Tests, Brumbies, 28)
Rob Simmons (100 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 31)
Irae Simone* (uncapped, Brumbies, 25)
Scott Sio (63 Tests, Brumbies, 28)
James Slipper (96 Tests, Brumbies, 31)
Lachie Swinton* (uncapped, NSW Waratahs, 23)
Matt To'omua (52 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 30)
Taniela Tupou (19 Tests, Queensland Reds, 24)
Jordan Uelese (9 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 23)
Rob Valetini (1 Test, Brumbies, 22)
Nic White (31 Tests, Brumbies, 30)
Harry Wilson* (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 20)
Liam Wright (2 Tests, Queensland Reds, 22)
Tom Wright* (uncapped, Brumbies, 23)
*Denotes uncapped player