Bledisloe Cup home tests sealed, yet ‘trouble at Mill’

Bledisloe Cup home tests sealed, yet 'trouble at Mill'

With the Bledisloe Cup home tests sealed, you might assume that New Zealand Rugby were jumping for joy after announcing the two fixtures. Yet there is ‘trouble at mill’.

Two matches, each uniquely scheduled for a Sunday kick-off is the bouquet. However, the trouble it took to secure those, the ignominy and frustrations caused the host and visitor, will have some questioning the once all-conquering New Zealand union.

Trans-Tasman relations are at an all-time low ebb (to say the least). It sees the two organizations at loggerheads and questioning the relationship.

Bledisloe Cup home tests sealed, yet ‘trouble at Mill’

For years, a superiority has run through the veins of Kiwi rugby administrators. More so since the Bledisloe Cup saw it’s regular place at NZR headquarters ‘safe and sound’. Even the Super Rugby title was only last touched by Australian hands the year before Michael Cheika inherited the Wallabies coaching role – that’s coincidental.

Yet with a fresh broom sweeping through Rugby Australia, the need to stand as tall as their Kiwi mates is clear to see. And with the quarantine policy of each Government proving a major hindrance for New Zealand held and an advantage for Australia, that ‘internal conflict’ might be a boost for the mentality that the 2020 Bledisloe Cup home tests are played under.

IT'S ON! The dates and locations for the two #BledisloeCup Tests in New Zealand in October have been confirmed.

Posted by All Blacks on Monday, September 14, 2020

Possibly New Zealand rugby fans should be grateful for what they’ve already had. A superb return to rugby in May – Super Rugby Aotearoa was the envy of all other rugby nations.

Hats down, at one time, NZ Rugby was where it was at. That is even thinking back to a third-place medal at the Rugby World Cup, the accumulated on-field results in domestic and International competition was unquestioned. Still, a sore point of contention at home and offshore, that Japanese tournament outcome saw the luster taken off a little.

Now, after an administrative loss to their Ozzie counterparts, NZR officials had to take it on the chin. The assumed Rugby Championship was lost – due mostly because of Covid-19 quarantine protocols. Yet, management still needs to take some accountability.

Quarantine ‘fumbling’ attempt at Diplomacy failed

Derision about, rugby pundits and observers have delivered their verdict; NZR dropped the ball. Their diplomacy ability to influence the government policy was less than satisfactory. NZR boss Mark Robinson admitted so publicly.

Reacting to the Prime Ministers acertion that it was not as much policy but SANZAAR ‘politics’ that led to Australia securing the Championship. He countered on radio interviews, “no I don’t understand it, and it’s certainly not the case. There’s a lot of speculation going around.

“We gave it our absolute best because we know the significant impact it would have made to this country”; Robinson’s dig at how the government will lose out economically, because they were not prepared to change quarantine rules for three teams to be isolated and have the ability to train in groups large than 15.

Border inhibiting factors aside, Robinson could not seal the deal. A cross in his performance measures still.

SANZAAR is a unique contra-deal. Four partners, two votes each, and with the facts in front of them, they chose Australia to host The Rugby Championship. The conditions just suited them all, commercial factors notwithstanding. So it was a kick to the pride. And as such, many just naturally presumed that Bledisloe Cup home tests were the conciliation prize.

Nobody had told new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie that.

The former Chiefs and Glasgow Warriors head coach, a two-time Super Rugby winning coach had recoiled when faced with reduced ability to train as a team,[under previous Government regulations]. Isolated from each other until an initial negative Covid-test result, it still restricted a touring team’s ability to gel before an important fixture; like the Bledisloe Cup.

Aussies play hardball to change Covid protocols

Dave Rennie, along with Director of Rugby Scott Johnson, knew that conciliatory discussion probably would not get the change in regulations needed. After NZR President and SANZAAR chair Brent Impey admitted that “this [losing the TRC] came down to quarantine regulations being too restrictive”. What he might not have expected was that after the pressure applied at a Ministerial level, it came down to a last-minute phone call between the Prime Ministers.

It took Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to call Ozzie PM Scott Morrison, and assure him that the Wallabies could have exclusive treatment, that reassured all parties, to book their tickets.

Rugby now exceeded its position. The national game was now considered in the national office.

In the week that Bledisloe Cup home tests have been announced, it appears that Australia got the better of New Zealand. Had managed to get stringent Covid-19 quarantine conditions adjusted in their advantage. How ironic, and a proof of modern sports diplomacy. Gone are the days of clandestine politicking. The new norm is to use media to your means, and to openly describe your options so that the public perception is in your favour.

While not even on the Trump scale, this week has proven that on a rugby-scale, it can match global or corporate-politics. Sports governance requires bold actions, and the new Rugby Australia convenors have new ideas. Rennie acts in the favour of the sport to the gain of Australia – the Bledisloe Cup is the main prize, naturally.

Gaining more comparative quarantine conditions, where the ‘away team’ can train earlier, will add to Australia’s confidence. And most rugby observers are sure they need it on and off the field. Super Rugby Australia vs Aotearoa is predictably in the latter’s favour.

Yet now, the Ozzies have taken the upper hand in confidence levels.

Overall, quotes and soundbites aside, New Zealand have taken a lesson. Some within, some outside their control although, behavior – even during the Coronavirus pandemic – still affects public perception. Dave Rennie has learned plenty in his Super Rugby time that he used that IP towards turning the narrative back upon NZR. It has worked well.

Though don’t step too far. Both of the Bledisloe Cup home tests must be played first. The visitors need to beat the holders……a feat which has not been achieved in almost a generation. What will make 2020 any different?

Attitude could be one, with New Zealand being on a defensive standing which could play into the Wallabies side of the field. Winning the backroom game gives the visitors a slight edge in the ‘war of words’. Now, for the result on-field.

New Zealand v Australia – Sunday, October 11. Wellington

NZ v Aus – Sunday, Oct 17. Auckland



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