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All Black Christmas? New Zealand fume at festive quarantine

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Wellington (AFP)

New Zealand Rugby on Thursday refused to rule out boycotting the end of this year's Rugby Championship in Australia after organisers unveiled a schedule that would leave the All Blacks stranded in quarantine at Christmas.

The row overshadowed plans for a tournament that host Australia described as a "mini-World Cup", with double-header matches each weekend over six rounds featuring the Wallabies, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.

"Six unmissable back-to-back double-headers featuring four of the very best Test nations in world rugby -– all in our backyard," Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke said.

"This really is a once-in-a-lifetime event," he added of the southern hemisphere tournament, which is being played in one country for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The opening round will be played in the Queensland state capital Brisbane on November 7, before the competition moves south to New South Wales.

But it was the final round -- which has the Wallabies playing the All Blacks in Sydney on December 12 -- that NZR took issue with.

New Zealand authorities are enforcing a strict two-week coronavirus quarantine period for all international arrivals, meaning that even if the players departed for home straight after the match they would face Christmas isolated from their families.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson acknowledged health requirements had made scheduling a challenge but said "we haven't agreed to this schedule and are disappointed at the announcement".

"We will now work through the issues with Rugby Australia and SANZAAR and believe that there are other solutions within the Rugby Championship window," Robinson said.

He said planning prior to this week had focused on the All Blacks' matches finishing on December 5, giving ample time for pre-Christmas quarantine in New Zealand.

Robinson said he understood commercial considerations were behind the late schedule change but argued "the wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also".

Asked if the All Blacks could boycott the final round, Robinson replied: "It's far too early to land on exactly what the solutions or outcomes are at the moment. We're going to take a few days to keep working with all the key players."

New Zealand was originally set to host the tournament but it was switched earlier this month because Australia's quarantine requirements and health restrictions were more flexible.

FIXTURES:

Round 1 - November 7 in Brisbane

Argentina v South Africa

Australia v New Zealand

Round 2 - November 14 in Sydney

New Zealand v Argentina

South Africa v Australia

Round 3 - November 21 in Sydney

New Zealand v South Africa

Australia v Argentina

Round 4 – November 28 in Newcastle

Argentina v Australia

South Africa v New Zealand

Round 5 – December 5 in Sydney

Argentina v New Zealand

Australia v South Africa

Round 6 – December 12 in Sydney

South Africa v Argentina

Australia v New Zealand

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