As the South Africans keep the other three nations waiting, SANZAAR are scrambling to ensure the tournament will go ahead in some form – with or without the Springboks.
“I don’t think so. There’s too much at stake,” SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said last month when asked if the tournament may not go ahead due to scheduling issues.
“It’s just about how we can best manage individual needs of all the unions and this is the challenge we’ve got with the whole pandemic, there’s complexities at every single corner.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make a decision and go forward and work on the different permutations. At some stages we’ve gone down a particular path and COVID interactions make us change that path.”
If the Springboks pull out of the tournament and the other three nations agree to play on, their bottom lines will all take a serious hit, too.
SANZAAR would have to go back to the negotiation table with broadcasters, who identified a six-week block of double headers as their preferred format for the tournament. That would not be possible without the Springboks.
While no one at either SANZAAR or RA would talk dollars and cents on Tuesday, the hit to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina’s bottom line would likely be in the millions.
Relations between Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby are an all time low, according to RA chair Hamish McLennan.
Tensions between RA and NZR have escalated in recent months, with an ongoing dispute over the scheduling of The Rugby Championship pouring fuel on the fire.
“There is respect there but the relationship is at probably the lowest ebb it’s ever been at,” McLennan said on Kiwi rugby show The Breakdown.
“But I’m trying my hardest to fix that over time.”
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At the heart of the current feud is NZR’s disgruntlement at the likelihood its stars will have to spend Christmas in quarantine away from their families.
When the governing body SANZAAR on Friday set the final round to be played in Sydney on December 12 — which meant the players would still be in quarantine on December 25 — an incensed New Zealand refused to commit to the itinerary.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said they were instead considering “a whole lot of different options”.
He also accused hosts Australia of reneging on a “commitment” to have the players home for Christmas, despite Australia having requested a five-week tournament (which would see players home for Christmas) initially.
McLennan insists the blame does not lie with his organisation.
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“On numerous occasions, for the record, going back to August 27, we at RA said we would be prepared to entertain a five-week competition but that was knocked on the head by New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina,” he said on The Breakdown.
He also claims to have proof NZR agreed to the six-week tournament.
“I’ve seen board minutes from September 17 where the six-week competition was signed off,” McLennan said.
“There’s a lot of he said, she said. It’s a bit messy, I have to say.”
He is hopeful the situation resolves itself before NZR entertain the notion of boycotting the final Bledisloe Test, scheduled for December 12.
“I’d be really concerned about a boycott. I think it would be a tragedy for the TRC and the game.
“It’s 10 weeks away. The restrictions are unwinding a little bit here. The NSW government has done a great job with contact tracing and we’ve had two days in a row where we’ve had no new cases.
“I think we all just need to take a deep breath and stand back a little bit.”
“Mariohas invited Michael Cheika to join the staff and assist the team. We are proud of this. But there is another issue,” Argentina’s manager, Marcelo Loffreda, said.
“Cheika lives in Sydney, and it is so important that he could join the team camp with us from the beginning or at the least four days later from our arrival, obviously with a strict protocol and testing negative.
“So, we are asking that to the authorities of SANZAAR, the government and the police of Australia.”
Cheika’s entry into quarantine isn’t the only issue facing the Argentinians, who have spent the past two weeks in Uruguay in preparation for the tournament and returned negative COVID-19 tests prior to departure.
Ledesma’s squad has several players who ply their trade in Europe.
Those players will not arrive in Sydney until October 19, and Argentina have subsequently asked permission to merge the two quarantine groups for training purposes only.
That application is also expected to be denied, leaving Ledesma to prepare his entire squad ahead of the first TRC double header on November 7.
“What we are asking the Australian government and the authorities of SANZAAR is to allow us at some point to merge these two quarantines,” Loffreda said.
“Obviously, we are not going to cause any risk to society, the community or anyone else because we are going to be locked in.
“But we need to be able to train all together at some stage when the first group finishes their period of quarantine. We are asking that this first group [coming from Uruguay] could be able to train with the second group [the Europeans] that will be in quarantine, at least for training.”
The Argentinians are also hopeful of organising a trial match in the lead-up to their clash with World Cup champions South Africa at Suncorp Stadium.
The European contingent will not be permitted to take part, but there is some hope the players arriving from Uruguay on Tuesday morning could feature in a match against an Australian side.
On the other side of the Tasman, New Zealand Rugby remain under fire for their omission of a Pasifika team in their 2021 Super Rugby competition.
Tensions between the two parties have now hit the point of no return. Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke labelled NZR “arrogant” and urged Australia to consider basing a team out of Western Sydney.
“I do actually think there is merit in it being based out of Australia, rather than New Zealand,” Clarke said.
“Australia have had a far more open-door policy, and a willingness with Pacific Island teams over the past few years compared to NZ Rugby.
“We’ve had the Fijian Drua play in the NRC [National Rugby Championship], we’ve had various options where Australia have been a little bit more kind, and without wanting to say it, a little bit less arrogant about it.”
Despite Clarke’s comments, the Herald has been told RA have not considered a Pasifika team as a possibility.
That may change, given the Western Force have expressed interest in New Zealand’s Super Rugby competition for 2022.
Elsewhere, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed on Monday that fans would be allowed to attend the second Bledisloe Cup clash in Auckland on Sunday week.
Fans were not permitted to attend the highly anticipated North vs South match last month due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases in Auckland but, as the city joined the rest of the country with level one restrictions, Eden Park was declared open for business.
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Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.