Bubble closure leads to Bledisloe headache

Rugby Australia is confident the August 21 Bledisloe Cup blockbuster in Perth can still go ahead despite the closure of the trans-Tasman bubble.

Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks.
Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

The Wallabies will be forced to make a mad dash to New Zealand in the coming days after the closure of the trans-Tasman bubble threw the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship fixtures into a spin.

The spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in Australia has spooked NZ, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the quarantine-free bubble closure with Australia on Friday for a period of at least eight weeks.

The move comes at a bad time for Rugby Australia ahead of a lucrative Bledisloe Cup series against NZ and the four-nation Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies were due to face off against NZ at Eden Park on August 7 in the Bledisloe Cup opener - a fixture that remains a strong chance to still go ahead.

The series was then set to move to Perth, where a crowd of about 60,000 was expected to watch the arch-rivals face off on August 21 in a match that also doubles as the start of their Rugby Championship.

The final match between the teams was set to take place in Wellington on August 28.

The Wallabies were initially set for a week-long camp on the Gold Coast starting this Sunday before flying to NZ.

But the team will have to head to NZ within days in order to ensure the series can go ahead.

The Ardern government is granting Kiwis seven days to return to NZ, and the Prime Minister indicated the Wallabies could use that window to head there under an economic impact exemption.

Wallabies players and staff would need to provide a negative pre-departure COVID test before being granted permission to fly to NZ.

"The Wallabies team have been in a secure bubble since the conclusion of the France series, with the squad assembled on the Gold Coast," Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said.

"The players are regularly PCR tested and have maintained strict bio-security protocols as recommended by the return to play committee and the relevant health authorities."

Tickets for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship series went on sale on Friday morning, but just hours later the trans-Tasman bubble was paused.

Although it was initially speculated that all three matches between the Wallabies and All Blacks might have to be played in NZ, Rugby Australia is quietly optimistic the Perth fixture can still go ahead given the bubble is only closed on NZ's end.

If the Perth match goes ahead, the big problem would be the third fixture in NZ.

Under that scenario, Wallabies and All Blacks players would need to receive exemptions to re-enter NZ.

If that doesn't occur, the match would have to be postponed or played elsewhere.

SANZAAR is confident a solution can be found to ensure the 12-match Rugby Championship - which features Australia, NZ, Argentina, and South Africa - proceeds.

Meanwhile, Super Netball will go on hold this weekend to allow teams to regroup following the relocation of the entire competition to Queensland.

There are three more rounds before finals, with competition to resume in the middle of next week.

"The teams have experienced a highly disrupted week, having relocated to Queensland at very short notice," Netball Australia chief executive Kelly Ryan said.

"We have a number of challenges to work through with our stakeholders, including venues and broadcast, before we can lock in the fixture for the remaining three rounds."

WALLABIES FIXTURES BEFORE CLOSURE OF THE BUBBLE WAS ANNOUNCED:-

New Zealand v Wallabies, Saturday August 7 at Eden Park, Auckland *Bledisloe Cup only

Wallabies v New Zealand, Saturday August 21 at Optus Stadium, Perth *Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship

New Zealand v Wallabies, Saturday August 28 at Sky Stadium, Wellington *Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship

South Africa v Wallabies, Sunday September 12 at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney

Wallabies v South Africa, Saturday September 18 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Wallabies v Argentina, Saturday September 25 at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle

Argentina v Wallabies, Saturday October 2 at GIO Stadium in Canberra.