The prospect of the Super Rugby trans-Tasman crossover series proceeding as planned is no clearer after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed only that her government would announce a potential date for the opening of a travel bubble with Australia on April 6.
As it stands there is only quarantine-free travel from New Zealand to Australia and not the other way round.
Ardern had been expected to announce the date for the opening of the bubble on Monday, but the Prime Minister instead delayed the announcement by a fortnight, leaving what will be a narrow window for the trans-Tasman series to be either green lit, rearranged or scrapped altogether.
The six-week competition, which pits New Zealand’s five Super Rugby provinces against the five from Australia from May 14, therefore remains up in the air with no firm date on when the bubble will begin.
Asked why she didn’t announce a date for the trans-Tasman bubble on Monday, Ardern said: “Because we don’t have a date for you.”
“We need to make sure we have a plan in place.”
Should a bubble not be created in time there had been suggestions a tournament hub in a similar vein to that used for last year’s Tri Nations in Australia could be repeated for Super Rugby, but faced with a similar scenario for the Test season again later in 2021 many New Zealand players are reportedly reluctant to relocate to Australia for two separate stints.
It had also been suggested that the five Australian teams could enter a hub in New Zealand, an idea Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn was open to as his undefeated outfit eyes the opportunity to test itself against New Zealand opposition.
Ardern says the bubble is a “highly complex” arrangement and that the New Zealand Government was continuing to work with Australia’s individual state governments as well as the Federal Government, suggesting there could be issues for Rugby Australia [RA] given the five franchises are spread across four states while the Brumbies are based in the ACT.
Both Queensland and Western Australia have been quick to close off their borders to other states when small COVID outbreaks have occurred.
Melbourne Rebels and Western Force last year both relocated to ensure that Super Rugby AU proceeded, while Dave Wessels’ side again shifted their base to Canberra earlier this year following the snap Victorian lockdown a week before the competition began.
If bubble arrangements cannot be reached with each of the respective state governments in which Australia’s teams are based, the franchises could again foreseeably relocate. But as is the situation in New Zealand, players from the Rebels in particular have grown weary of life on the road, particularly after they were finally able to return to AAMI Park for a first home game in more than 12 months last Friday.
Still, Reds coach Thorn couldn’t hide the desire that his team have the opportunity to face New Zealand’s five teams in the tournament, last week saying they were prepared to become the “Queenstown Reds” if it would allow them to face the likes of the Crusaders and Blues.
The draw for the five-week tournament was set late last year, each team having two home and two away games with all Round 3 games set to be hosted at the one venue across the one weekend. That host city is still to be unveiled, though it is believed Auckland and Brisbane are the frontrunners if the competition does proceed in its original format.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have told ESPN that Rugby Australia [RA] was prepared to wait until late April before making a final decision on the competition. The governing body has therefore remained quiet on any contingency plans and specifically whether a third round of Super Rugby AU could be added in lieu of the crossover series.
Several of New Zealand’s franchises had earlier this year indicated they had factored in plans for a third round of Super Rugby Aotearoa amid the uncertainty of the trans-Tasman series proceeding.
ESPN has reached out to RA for comment.