“We haven’t agreed to that” – Rugby Championship schedule conflict looms

"We didn't agree to this" - Rugby Championship schedule conflict looms

When The Rugby Championship schedule was confirmed by SANZAAR, there were polar opposite reactions. On one hand, the promoters SANZAAR proudly confirmed ‘TRC 2020 Match Schedule and Venues’ while the host Rugby Australia were delighted. On the other, New Zealand Rugby was far from amused.

Why? It appears a scheduling conflict would see the All Blacks squad in quarantine for Christmas, and that is where the argument looms.

Note: that is only one aspect of this conflict. One expressed by two tweets that were wildly opposed, and show a chasm emerging from the quartet of Southern Hemisphere powers.

Rugby Australia (AU) reports a ‘rugby bonanza’ while their counterparts expressed their “disappointment” at a schedule that seems to have been reached without accord.

In his exact words, NZ Rugby chief execution Mark Robinson told media “we haven’t agreed to that”. Powerful language, and incredibly strange that an organization would willingly announce a schedule, where some of its major partners [appear] to have not given it their full support.

“We haven’t agreed to that” – Rugby Championship schedule conflict looms

“We were working on the understanding all joint venture partners agree to these sorts of decisions [The Rugby Championship schedule] and in that regard, we were disappointed we couldn’t reach an agreement before a release was made”, Robinson said.

Who could have imagined that an announcement that could solve all four partners’ financial strains, could be handled so badly? The answer is ‘most rugby pundits’.

In the term of Andy Marinos, conflicting statements, good and bad intentions have been aplenty. In a performance review, the SANZAAR board must now have an even longer list to question him on, all the while as the unions consider player welfare and logistical struggles. Keeping the players within their bubble is one thing yet confronted with Christmas away from families could mean some choose home, instead of a 10-week tour.

Why would they open room for conflict? Clearly, outside of the Zoom meetings, and all the emails and proposals will have been flying about, that there was not a consensus. It seems the ideas and plans have gone past a point of consultation, and become the agreed sentiment of the majority. Nobody expects SANZAAR to make an announcement on one hand, and the exact opposite reaction is made by a leading partner of the organization.

Ever since Marinos first talked of Western Australia hosting all parties (back in May), the discussions have been escalating to the point in the last fortnight, where Rugby AU was given the right to host the tournament above a New Zealand (NZ) bid. NSW state government support, and a more established and convenient quarantine policy expressed as reasons to schedule the six weekends across Sydney, Newcastle, and in Brisbane, Queensland.

The New Zealand Warriors players wait for immigration processing after arriving at Tamworth regional Airport on May 03, 2020 in Tamworth, Australia. The Warriors have been granted exemption from current travel restrictions to be able to enter Australia in order to prepare for the recommencement of the 2020 NRL Season. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Were NZ Rugby excluded from the decision? Andy Marinos has stated on Newstalk ZB, “they’ve been fully consulted, and have been part of the process right from the get-go”. That may be true yet even 24 hours after this quarrel was aired in public it is hard to believe that when a party has not given you the ‘green light’ to share anything publicly, how is it that any cordial relations can continue now without a conflict of interest?

All Blacks may miss Christmas due to Quarantine measures

As it stands, this Rugby Championship schedule sees Australia host New Zealand in Sydney on December 12. To then fly home, all players, management, and staff would have to be isolated for 14 days. A common figure, but one that could see them miss Christmas holidays with their families. Incredible, and from the reaction of NZ Rugby, a surprise to them.

Marinos admitted that his New Zealand SANZAAR board representatives, Robinson included, did request the final day of the competition be pushed forward but said, “it’s always been the 12th. NZ were fully aware that we had a D-Day with the New South Wales government for that day. It certainly didn’t come as any surprise to the other unions at all”.

His intimation that ‘everyone else knew’ makes for fabulous copy. The world’s sports media is going crazy with fears of a meltdown in relations. Conspiracy theories of the All Blacks ‘boycotting the final match’ were reported by 1News sports correspondent KimberleeDowns. She directly asked Marinos that question, “how concerned are you of a NZ boycott of that last game?”

Marinos responded, “I’m not concerned. I think that more should be a concern for NZ Rugby and how they would contemplate managing that”. He had spoken of the challenges involved, and how it has put a strain on the SANZAAR relationships. Yet in business and in global sports, some sacrifice and compromise must be made – some give, and take.

Had New Zealand been conciliatory, would this conflict arise?

“Every single team is having to make a compromise. I think this is just the reality of the changed world we are living in”. Marinos, pointing out that Australia needs to also undergo two sets of quarantine periods, during the Bledisloe Cup test series.

Yet while that compromise was made, had NZ been more conciliatory, might this conflict have happened?

Some will say no, and on that side of the argument, Rugby AU have just gotten on with the business of organizing a six-match tournament. Be it one which ends at a time of year where sides have routinely already ended their seasons.

It has never impacted at a major point of the year like Christmas, when rugby players in the Southern hemisphere have traditionally always had time with families. Interrupted this year by the consequences of the scheduling – all too obvious for anyone watching from the sidelines.

Robinson has been aware of external influences. He said in an NZR media release, “We understand the commercial considerations in the scheduling. However, the wellbeing of our people is an incredibly important factor in this also.

Compromised now exactly by The Rugby Championship schedule that this conflict creates [Marinos seems to be a master of evading the ultimate questions]. He also said, “This is not unfamiliar territory that we don’t have alignment but I’m pretty confident that we will get the right solution”. Sure, there can be arguments but, in the end, December the 12th was clearly going to impact the New Zealanders hardest.

While the quarantine conditions for Argentina and South Africa are for less stringent measures; players who return to their home countries may complete quarantine at home, New Zealand’s are fixed.

In terms of the 14 days being amended, any leniency to be given to one sports team would cause an uproar in that country, and if this conflict does go unresolved, it might see a radical idea that one group of NZ players are released after the Round Five clash; to appease their family grievances.

Some might yet see Christmas, but hopes that the last round schedule can be changed for all of their benefits is still up for discussion.

Final Round Six match schedule timing yet to be concluded….

“That is something we have agreed to as unions, to work through together”. In other words, the schedule is not set – and the main reason for the media release on Thursday was to satisfy commercial partners. The NSW government, tourism groups like Destination NSW and Tourism Australia. Key sponsors too – less Qantas, who ended a 30-year arrangement earlier in the week – and to align with venues marketing and promotion timetables.

Yet if this is how an International test schedule is reached, then it is less than first-rate.

Again, it comes down to relationships. New Rugby AU chief executive Rob Clarke, as well as Mark Robinson have each only recently joined the SANZAAR table. They are new to the behaviour of Andy Marinos; a man who seems to generate sound bites more often than achieving solid actions. The Rugby Championship schedule conversation has now become chaotic. NZ Rugby and Rugby AU seem at polar ends of the conversation, and it may end with a conflict that rips at the bonds between the trans-Tasman rivals.

Super Rugby has been a victim, as 2022 is now the long-sighted season where any reputable cross-conference competition will be held. Yet now, with more breaks in the relationship, what will it do to both parties attitudes towards the other, is anyone guess. On the field, a stare or a barb thrown your way can be brushed off post-game. But in the corporate world, grudges and bad feelings are held onto.

SANZAAR might still hold it’s position at the table yet in the future, the chairs could be turned in different directions, and the chasm now might become an unfillable void.


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