Remaining Rugby Championship games to be played in Australia

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The four-nation Rugby Championship will conclude with eight games being held in the Australian state of Queensland because of various new COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions prompted by the spread of the delta variant, tournament organizer SANZAAR said Tuesday.

The southern hemisphere rugby governing body and Rugby Australia said that four doubleheaders involving Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina will be played in the Queensland cities of Gold Coast, Townsville and Brisbane in September and early October.

That followed an announcement last week by New Zealand that it would not be able to host South Africa for two tests between the top two teams in the world because of a new lockdown.

As well as the eight games set to be held in Queensland, there is still one match left in the second round. New Zealand had put a trip by its team to play Australia in Perth this coming Saturday on hold until new plans were made for the tournament.

Rugby Australia will confirm the date of that rescheduled Bledisloe Cup fixture — which also acts as a second-round game in the Rugby Championship — in the next few days, it said. It will remain in Perth. New Zealand has already clinched the Bledisloe Cup for the 19th consecutive year with wins in the first two games at Auckland’s Eden Park.

Games moved to Queensland included matches meant to be played in Auckland and Dunedin in New Zealand, and Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra in Australia.

The changes echo last year’s Rugby Championship, when South Africa withdrew from the tournament and it was played entirely in Australia. Organizers had hoped the 2021 version would return to near normal but those plans fell through when New Zealand went into lockdown because of an outbreak of the fast-spreading delta variant. The South African team would not have been allowed to enter New Zealand, the New Zealand government said.

“We thought last year was tough when we had to implement a Tri-Nations tournament in Australia with South Africa absent due to the pandemic, but the current disruption caused by the ‘delta variant’ of COVID-19 has seen government authorities tighten up border bio-security measures substantially,” SANZAAR chief executive Brendan Morris said in a statement.

SANZAAR had considered moving the remaining matches to Europe or taking up an offer from South Africa to host the rest of the tournament there, Morris said.

But the state government of Queensland quickly put in place a plan to host the games. Spectators will be allowed to attend, Queensland sports minister Stirling Hinchliffe said.

Three matches have been played in the Rugby Championship so far, where New Zealand beat Australia in Auckland and South Africa beat Argentina twice in the South African city of Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth.

South Africa was due to play two games in Australia and two in New Zealand, while Argentina also still has two games against the Wallabies and two against the All Blacks.

The Springboks and Pumas squads were both stranded in South Africa after their second match this weekend while waiting for word on where the tournament would be completed.

They will now travel to Australia together on Thursday and arrive in Queensland on Friday, the South African rugby body said. South Africa and Argentina players and officials will have to quarantine for two weeks but will then “operate normally in Australia with no restrictions being placed on their movements,” SA Rugby said.

Teams will be based at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast during their quarantine and will have no contact with hotel workers, contractors and the general public, SANZAAR said.

The first matches in Queensland are on Sept. 12.

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2021 Remainder of Rugby Championship match schedule (times, order of matches to be confirmed):

Sept. 12: Gold Coast: New Zealand vs. Argentina; South Africa vs. Australia.

Sept. 18: Brisbane: Argentina vs. New Zealand; Australia vs South Africa.

Sept. 25: Townsville: Australia vs. Argentina; New Zealand vs. South Africa.

Oct. 2: Gold Coast: Argentina vs. Australia; South Africa vs. New Zealand.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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