Wallabies coach backs New Zealand call for early finish

Christchurch (New Zealand) (AFP) –


Australia coach Dave Rennie sided with New Zealand Sunday over a scheduling row threatening to derail the Rugby Championship, but he held back from saying it would be resolved.

The stumbling block is New Zealand's demand that the tournament, which also involves South Africa and Argentina, be over in time for the All Blacks to be home with their families for Christmas after meeting their country's strict 14-day quarantine rules.

The tournament is being staged in one country for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the opening round in the Australian city of Brisbane on November 7.

But when the governing body SANZAAR on Friday set the final round to be played in Sydney on December 12 -- which meant the players would still be in quarantine on December 25 -- an incensed New Zealand refused to commit to the itinerary.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said they were instead considering "a whole lot of different options".

He also accused hosts Australia of reneging on a "commitment" to have the players home for Christmas.

New Zealand was initially asked to host the tournament but it was later switched to Australia, which offered more flexible quarantine rules.

Under the original arrangement, New Zealand had agreed to an Australian request for the Wallabies to be home for Christmas and Rennie said it would be "hypocritical of us now to not support New Zealand when we thought it was a good idea".

But New Zealand-born Rennie said while Australia supported the All Blacks' request, a change of itinerary "needs to be unanimous" within the four-nation SANZAAR organisation.

He added that there was talk of a bubble encompassing New South Wales and New Zealand "and if that comes in before Christmas then it's a non-issue. They'll be able to go straight home to their families and that's what we want. It's been a tough year for everyone."

Rennie and his 40-strong Wallaby squad, including 16 newcomers, arrived in New Zealand late Friday ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Wellington on October 11.

They are doing their 14-days quarantine in a hotel in Christchurch, and will be allowed out to begin training Tuesday with Rennie keen to start shaping his match-day 23 players.

"There's still some positions up for grabs," he said.

"I've always said that we're going to pick on form. And you know, if you're good enough your old enough so there's no doubt some of the young men are going to put some serious heat on for a spot in that 23."