New Zealand remains defiant on The Rugby Championship feud that threatens to cancel the competition.
NZR chairman Brent Impey, who is also chairman of SANZAAR, reiterated the Kiwis’ position on Thursday by saying they never agreed to the December 12 match against the Wallabies that is set to conclude the tournament in Sydney, because it would force All Blacks players to remain quarantined in a hotel on Christmas Day.
New Zealand media reported that “minutes” of a SANZAAR meeting on September 17 showed Kiwi officials were aware of the six-week draw announcement.
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Tournament tension: It’s not just about the All Blacks
News Corp has now seen the papers.
They are notes of a meeting between SANZAAR chief executives, including NZR chief Mark Robinson, that states: “The draw as presented to the competition’s working group earlier for a six-week competition was accepted”.
In that meeting, Robinson resolved to push the New Zealand government to wind back their mandatory 14-day quarantine rules to 10 days.
The draw’s announcement was to have been made on September 21, but was pushed back three days at the request of the Kiwis.
On September 24, NZR emailed SANZAAR partners saying they did not agree to the six-week tournament, however the other nations and NSW government officials were standing by to make the announcement of the draw from November 7 to December 12.
Impey was not part of that September 17 meeting when consensus was reached, and slammed the report citing the “minutes” of the SANZAAR meeting.
“It says a six-week draw was agreed by all, I can tell you that it wasn’t,” Impey said.
“We know that, and Rugby Australia and SANZAAR know that, because we kept telling them right up until the time they announced the draw.
“The notes also quite clearly refer to an impasse, and there are many emails that prove this.
“So our position has never changed.
“Our focus is on trying to get the TRC issue sorted, and we’re not going to bother to engage in tit for tat on so-called notes, which weren’t minutes, and weren’t board minutes either.
“So we do challenge those that have made comments concerning NZR’s integrity, we defend our position, and we’re firm in it.
“As chair of SANZAAR, the last board meeting of SANZAAR was August 4th, there have been no quote minutes provided from any of the exco (executive council) meetings, including a telephone conversation or group of the CEOs that have been brought to the SANZAAR board relating to any meeting on the 17th of September.
“There are emails I’ve seen that show New Zealand was never committed to a December 12 date, and tried to work through solutions. It’s also been confirmed that New Zealand never agreed to a December 12 match in Australia, that is my honest view.
“I do believe the question should be more directed at the party that leaked those so-called minutes – which aren’t that at all – they’re someone’s notes of a meeting.”
With Impey stating NZR is working to find “alternatives” for that final game, and not play on December 12 as broadcasters of TRC expect, there is a danger the tournament could collapse.
“The issue around December 12 to try to find an alternative is a priority,” Impey said.
Impey said paying the All Blacks players extra money to play on December 12 “is not a consideration”.
Under SANZAAR’s operating structure, any change to a tournament schedule must have unanimous approval from all four unions.
South Africa and Argentina already voted against a five-week tournament and are unlikely to change their mind at this late stage.
So if New Zealand stands alone in requesting a five-week competition – which would lose serious money from broadcasters who have paid for six weekends of double-header games – the tournament may not proceed.
It appears, if the situation is not resolved, the Kiwis will rely on paperwork technicalities to show there was never unanimous support at the SANZAAR chair level for the six-week draw in order to escape any financial liability sought by the other three unions.
The SANZAAR alliance works at three levels: the SANZAAR board meetings, which involves the chairs and CEOS; the SANZAAR CEO’s meeting with just the chiefs – this is the one that took place on September 17 – and; the SANZAAR working group.
Kiwis exposed on ‘blindsided’ claims over TRC draw
While New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said publicly last week that there was an agreement for a five-week tournament that would end on December 5 – allowing the All Blacks to return to their homes after quarantine before Christmas Day – her staff will now be keen to see proof.
Kiwi media outlet NewsHub cited SANZAAR meeting minutes that show New Zealand Rugby was aware of the six-week proposal before it was announced.
News Corp Australia has been told this is accurate, and the Kiwis were fully briefed – NZR chairman Brent Impey is also chairman of SANZAAR.
Rugby Australia voted in favour of the five-week proposal requested by New Zealand, but South Africa and Argentina rejected it because they felt six games in five weeks worked against player welfare guidelines for their Test stars.
All broadcasters involved expressed a desire for weekend games – they feel midweek matches will not rate as well – so the six-week tournament format was drafted to be held in Australia from November 7 to December 12.
Yet since its announcement, Kiwi officials have stated they were blindsided and won’t abide by the draw because All Blacks players would be forced to quarantine on Christmas Day under New Zealand’s 14-day mandatory COVID-19 rules.
RA chairman Hamish McLennan told Sky Sport’s that relations between Australia and New Zealand was at its “lowest ebb” earlier this week. But NZR chief executive Mark Robinson dismissed that.
“I think it’s a bit of bluster, to be honest,” Robinson said.
“Clearly they’ve got a strategy and a narrative that they want to portray. We don’t operate like that but we respect the fact that they want to.
“We’ll carry on engaging about the future opportunities with them and just have to largely get on with our own business and ignore some of the things that are being said like that.”
All Blacks captain Sam Cane and coach Ian Foster have said this week they were shocked by the draw announcement and will not accept it.
Robinson added: “The players, management and ourselves are all completely aligned. This has to be sorted out ASAP.
“We’ll be working through that later this evening and tomorrow and try and bring it to a resolution as soon as possible.”
But informed sources said there will be no change to the Rugby Championship draw, leaving two options; the All Blacks boycott the final match on December 12, or the Kiwi government relaxes their quarantine rules within weeks to ensure the players are not locked in hotels on Christmas Day.