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Coronavirus? What coronavirus?
The New Zealand All Blacks are used to overcoming all obstacles and driving through every opponent that stands in their way. Evidently, that also includes worldwide pandemics.
The All Blacks have announced ambitious plans to hold as many as eight or nine test matches before the end of 2020, even as COVID-19 begins to reappear in New Zealand. By comparison, they played just five test matches in 2019 in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, in a time when no one had ever heard of COVID-19.
Admitting the plan was optimistic, Chris Lendrum, New Zealand Rugby’s head of professional rugby, indicated that he’d be holding further discussions with government officials about their plans and to get further guidance on how to move forward with its implementation in the next couple of weeks
“There’s a huge amount to work through but we remain really positive sitting here today that we could still have eight or nine All Blacks matches in 2020,” Lendrum told SkySports.
The recent re-emergence of COVID-19 cases in the Auckland community and the resulting city border shtudown restrictions forced the cancellation of the sold-out Super Rugby Aotearoa finale between the Crusaders and the Blues at Eden Park. The first two rounds of the Farah Palmer Cup were also called off.
“Certainly we’re on a bit of a journey and Covid is going to restrict that journey potentially in 2021 and keep our sights shorter than we might otherwise would like it, but that’s the hand that we’ve all been dealt with in the world and it’s not just rugby suffering from that,” Lendrum said.
“But again I remain really confident in our ability to progress positively.”
Bring On The Aussies
A significant part of the New Zealand plan is to put together a series of test matches with neighbouring Australia, their oldest rival.
Currently, the All Blacks are listed as the +175 favourites to win the next Rugby World Cup in 2023. That’s even though they lost to England in the 2019 RWC semi-finals. Australia is rated with a betting line of +1400.
“We’re obviously really focused on this year,” Lendrum said.
“We’ve been pretty open on our desire to get the Wallabies and All Blacks playing during the course of this year – three to four tests potentially; maybe some in Australia and maybe some here, or maybe all here.
The All Blacks and Wallabies clashed twice in 2019. Australia won 46-27 at Perth. New Zealand rebounded with a 36-0 thrashing of the Aussies at Eden Park in Auckland.
New Zealand holds a 9-2 edge in the series since the beginning of 2016.
Originally, the two sides were slated to meet in three test matches this season – the first on Oct. 17 in Brisbane, followed by Nov. 7 in Melbourne and Nov. 14 at Wellington.
If the two sides don’t play, it will mark the first time since 1981 that there hasn’t been at least one Australia-New Zealand test match in a calendar year.
Investec Rugby Championship
New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina are also supposed to play this year in the Investec Rugby Championship, and Lendrum isn’t ready to throw in the towel on that event taking place.
In fact, with New Zealand originally having done well in dealing with COVID-19, it was projected to play host to all of the matches in the competition.
“We’re obviously the country amongst those four partners that to date has fared the best through the Covid pandemic,” Lendrum said.
“So we’re working with the Government at the moment to try to see whether it’s possible to host those three teams in, under what conditions they need to come in, how they might have to quarantine or isolate before they can train as a group and then as a team, and then obviously have to talk to the teams themselves and the players about whether they are happy with all of those conditions that will be around.”