There is a sad but real prospect that test football in this part of the world may not be played this year.
It might just be too hard to make it happen amid a landscape of ever-changing rules and surprises.
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And that’s the problem, uncertainty is a killer when it comes to planning and right now Australia, South Africa and Argentina will be wondering what might happen if they commit to coming to New Zealand for the proposed Rugby Championship and suddenly find themselves in a level three lockdown.
It’s hard enough being held captive as it is, but to be locked down in a foreign land would be a form of psychological torture.
After all, it’s the worst case scenario for military personnel – being held hostage behind enemy lines and yet this could be the fate of international rugby sides if they come to New Zealand in October and there is another outbreak.
It’s unlikely that professional athletes fear being infected anywhere near as much as they would be scared of being trapped and isolated in New Zealand.
And it’s not as if New Zealand Rugby can offer any guarantees against that.
They are not in control of the decision-making levers and there comes a point in all their on-going discussions with their Sanzaar partners where they simply have to shrug and say ‘dunno’ when the question of ‘what if there is a level change’ comes up.
A few weeks ago that question didn’t carry the weight it does now. It was a contingency issue – a remote possibility rather than a worrying probability as many may see it now.
New Zealand had 100 days free from community transmission and despite the continued warnings from the medical experts that it would almost certainly come back, there was an overwhelming confidence that Covid was everyone else’s problem.
New Zealand had freedoms that were the envy of the world and most notably in a rugby framework, it was the lack of restrictions on mass gatherings. That, in the quest to play test football, was the trump card.
Australia, South Africa, Argentina – anyone – could come to New Zealand and be almost certain to be playing in front of a full house.
The gate income would flow and yes New Zealand would be the main beneficiary but not all the cash would be theirs: the money river would have significant tributaries and while it would be a relentlessly demanding assignment for the Sanzaar partners to be based here for up to 10 weeks, it would unquestionably be worth it.
Every national union is desperate for revenue. Every partner broadcaster is desperate for content and players are desperate to play because after all, what are they really if all they can do is head down to the local park and kick a ball about on their own?
But New Zealand’s sales pitch as the Covid-19-free land of rugby opportunity has now been tainted to the extent that the festival of test football that had been on the cards, may no longer happen.
The Rugby Championship maybe, at best, has a 50:50 chance of going ahead.
The prospect of a test series against the Wallabies has better odds, but New Zealand may have to accept that it will take greater compromise than they were previously willing to make.
NZR’s proposal was to play four Bledisloe tests at home, which most neutrals would have been able to see, actually made most practical and financial sense for both nations.
The Wallabies could come to New Zealand in mid-September, quarantine and then play two Bledisloe Cup tests, followed by Rugby Championship games against South Africa and Argentina and then finish off with two more Bledisloe fixtures.
It would be a long haul, but lucrative given the revenue sharing scheme NZR would offer.
But if NZR can’t be certain about whether there will be restrictions on crowds, then what is New Zealand offering that Australia isn’t as a Bledisloe Cup venue?
Why not split the games – two in New Zealand and two across the Tasman as Rugby Australia wants?
Then again, why play them at all if they can’t generate even cost-covering gate revenue either in New Zealand or Australia?
More fundamental is the question of whether a test match played behind closed doors would be such a soulless and odd experience that it shouldn’t happen.
All decision-making is in limbo while New Zealand awaits the Government’s next update in regard to lockdown levels across the country.
That, though, only highlights the real issue here which is that uncertainty is the real problem.