Australia, New Zealand resume stalled rugby championship
The Wallabies welcome the All Blacks in a rare Sunday afternoon match at the international level. Turns out it’s not the only unusual event in a compressed four-country rugby championship in an Australian state – at least as of next week.
COVID-19 restrictions first postponed Sunday’s Bledisloe Cup final in Perth from late August, when the All Blacks were unable to travel to the Western Australian capital due to a lockdown in New Zealand. They had already won the annual series between the trans-Tasman rivals for the 19th consecutive year with victories over two weekends at Eden Park in Auckland.
Since then, the host organization SANZAAR has decided to move all matches and teams to the state of Queensland due to a variety of COVID-19 restrictions across time zones and even between Australian states. Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand all stay at a resort on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane.
The teams will play four doubles programs over the course of four weekends ending October 2. The first of these will be on September 12 – another Sunday – when New Zealand takes on Argentina, followed by Australia against South Africa. It will be the first game for Pumas and world champion Springboks since August 22, when Argentina tied a two-game streak in South Africa with a 29-10 victory.
The changes this year are similar to last year’s Rugby Championship, when South Africa pulled out of the tournament and was played entirely in Australia. Organizers had hoped that the 2021 version would be different.
“We thought last year was tough when we had to implement a tri-nation tournament in Australia with South Africa absent due to the pandemic, but the current disruption caused by the ‘delta variant’ of COVID -19 saw government officials tighten the border with substantial biosecurity measures, ”SANZAAR Managing Director Brendan Morris said on August 24 when the decision was made to move the remainder of the tournament to Queensland.
Sunday in Perth, All Black Beauden Barrett will return to the No. 10 jersey in which he was twice voted best player in the world. Barrett has only played sporadically at the All Blacks’ opener over the past two years, since Richie Mo’unga took over from him in the starting role. Most of his recent test appearances have been in the back or on the bench.
For the Wallabies, Samu Kerevi and Izack Rodda will make their long-awaited returns. Kerevi steps in from the side down center for Hunter Paisami, who will miss the game due to the birth of his child. This will be Kerevi’s first appearance since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, having spent the past two years in Japan playing for Suntory.
Rodda will step off the bench in place of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in front of his new home crowd after signing with the Perth-based Western Force for the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season.
New Zealand will be looking to complete a clean 3-0 sweep of the Bledisloe series.
“We are ready and the team are really determined to finish this block of testing against Australia with a top level performance,” said head coach Ian Foster. “We had a really unique situation before this test with a quarantine in New Zealand and a ‘soft’ quarantine here in Perth. But the work that has been done to prepare the players has been exceptional. “
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