New Zealand to host 2020 Rugby Championship

WELLINGTON • Southern hemisphere governing body SANZAAR announced plans yesterday to hold this year’s Rugby Championship in New Zealand, as the game’s Kiwi powerbrokers gathered to discuss a radical revamp of Super Rugby.

SANZAAR said it wanted to play the Rugby Championship in one location because of the Covid-19 pandemic and New Zealand was the preferred option because of its success in containing the virus.

“SANZAAR is well advanced in option planning with New Zealand Rugby, which in turn, is now seeking New Zealand government approval,” it said in a statement.

The four-way international tournament involves South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, and is administered by SANZAAR.

It was originally scheduled to begin on Aug 8 with a clash between the Wallabies and All Blacks in Melbourne, but the fixture has little chance of proceeding as the city battles a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

While SANZAAR hopes to rescue its international schedule by staging the Championship in New Zealand, the future of its Super Rugby club competition remains uncertain.

The tournament was suspended in March as virus-related border restrictions halted travel for its 15 teams, which are located in five countries straddling 16 time zones.

New Zealand and Australia have set up domestic competitions, but South African clubs and Argentina’s Jaguares remain sidelined.

Japan’s Sunwolves, who was set to be axed at the end of the season even before the pandemic, has been disbanded.

The New Zealand Rugby board yesterday met to discuss a review of Super Rugby, which has long been criticised as unwieldy, expensive to run, exhausting for elite players and difficult for fans to follow.

The review, called Aratipu, the indigenous Maori word for “growth”, has not been released, but reportedly focuses on a trans-Tasman competition without South African clubs and the Jaguares.

New Zealand media said the review proposes an eight-team competition, comprising five Kiwi Super Rugby clubs and two or three from Australia, depending on whether a Pacific islands team is included.

The prospect has caused consternation in Australia, which would like to see five teams participate, including the Perth-based Western Force, who was cut from Super Rugby in 2017.

New Zealand Rugby said it was unsure when the results of the Aratipu review would be made public. — AFP