June 3, 2020 / 8:34 AM / a month ago

Rugby-New Zealand hopeful of 2020 tests against northern hemisphere teams

WELLINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby is “optimistic” about hosting northern hemisphere teams in an international schedule later in 2020 as the country edges closer to lifting social distancing restrictions.

New Zealand will decide on Monday whether it is ready to lower its COVID-19 alert system a notch to level 1, which would end curbs on mass gatherings and allow fans at sporting events.

NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday the governing body was looking at a “not insignificant” schedule of international ruby in the last quarter of 2020.

“We’re talking to all different parties around what that might look like. Some are the northern hemisphere, some in terms of our SANZAAR partners,” he said.

“The underlying sense is one of optimism.”

SANZAAR is the governing body of the southern hemisphere’s annual four-nation Rugby Championship between New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina.

Robinson said NZR was also looking at opportunities involving Pacific nations, which have recorded minimal COVID-19 infections.

“They could be a (Pacific) team or a selection of a team,” he said.

“There are others that are reaching out and they are looking at New Zealand and seeing whether there is an opportunity to come here depending on border and quarantine and border issues.”

New Zealand, which recorded no new cases of coronavirus for a 12th consecutive day on Wednesday, has no immediate plans to reopen its border.

Rugby Australia interim CEO Rob Clarke said on Tuesday the governing body was in talks with its New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa counterparts about hosting the nations in a “hub” to allow a condensed Rugby Championship to go ahead.

Robinson declined to elaborate on that proposal but said there was “appetite” for a number of possibilities, including playing the All Blacks’ postponed July tests against Wales and Scotland in October, depending on the status of club competitions in the northern hemisphere.

“We’re certainly excited about the possibility of July moving to October ... It’s very much a wait and see.”

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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