New Zealand cancels Springbok tests amid COVID-19 lockdown

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Rugby has announced the cancellation of two home tests between the All Blacks and Springboks after a community COVID-19 outbreak sent the country into lockdown.

The All Blacks also will not immediately travel to Perth for an Aug. 28 test against Australia because of uncertainty over the remainder of the Rugby Championship schedule.

In a statement Friday, NZR said it had received government advice the World Cup champion Springboks will not be admitted to New Zealand for matches at Dunedin on Sept. 25 and Auckland on Oct. 1. The Dunedin match was to be the 100th test between New Zealand and South Africa.

Matches between the New Zealand women’s team and Australia also have been canceled.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said every effort had been made to keep the Springboks tests in New Zealand.

“We share the disappointment of our fans, players and other stakeholders, particularly those in Dunedin where the sold-out 100th test between the All Blacks and South Africa was shaping up as a very special occasion,” Robinson said. “However, after discussions with Government, it is clear that the COVID-19 travel restrictions meant there was no way of bringing the South African and Wallaroos squads into New Zealand.

“We understand the importance of putting the health and safety of New Zealanders first.”

The discovery of community cases in Auckland last week caused the government to place all of New Zealand at Alert Level 4, the strictest lockdown which prohibits sports events or any public gatherings. So far 31 community cases have been detected, including three in Wellington which were announced Friday.

That caused the government to extend the Level 4 lockdown at least until Tuesday.

The Bledisloe Cup test in Perth already was in doubt because the West Australian state government had paused quarantine-free travel from New Zealand, meaning the All Blacks likely would have to isolate for 14 days on arrival.

The All Blacks were due to leave for Perth on Sunday but Robinson said their departure has been delayed. SANZAAR, which governs southern hemisphere rugby competitions, is expected to make an announcement about the schedule shortly.

“Without complete certainty on the team’s next movements around the Rugby Championship we felt it was prudent for the team to stay put in New Zealand,” Robinson said. “Once the team leaves our shores, they currently can’t return until Nov. 23, (after) their northern tour. So given the uncertainty, it makes sense to pause and get more clarity on these fixtures.”

Robinson said New Zealand remained “100% committed to playing in the entire Rugby Championship in 2021 and are working closely with SANZAAR to look at a range of options.”

Rugby Australia said in a statement it was continuing to work with SANZAAR in an attempt to keep the Rugby Championship alive this season after the tournament was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. It also said it would try to come up with alternative dates and venues for the Perth match.

Reports from Britain on Friday suggested Rugby Championship matches might be moved to Europe where they could be played with crowds in attendance.

Last weekend, South Africa came straight off a series win over the British and Irish Lions to beat Argentina 32-12 in the only Rugby Championship match completed so far.

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