MELBOURNE: New Zealand have scrapped their home Rugby Championship Tests against South Africa due to COVID-19 restrictions and pulled out of the Wallabies Test in Perth next week in a decision slammed by Rugby Australia.
The New Zealand government extended a nationwide lockdown on Friday (Aug 20) as new COVID-19 infections were discovered in the capital Wellington and case numbers jumped to 31.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said authorities had advised that the Springboks would not be permitted to enter New Zealand for Tests in Dunedin on Sep 25 and Auckland on Oct 2.
The All Blacks would remain at home rather than travel to Perth for the Aug 28 Test due to uncertainty over the Rugby Championship schedule, NZR added.
With most tickets sold for the match at the 60,000-seat Perth Stadium, Rugby Australia (RA) said it was blindsided by NZR's "unilateral" decision.
"It’s incredibly disappointing to be informed of this decision via the media, despite having a conversation with the (NZR) CEO moments before and there no mention that this was the intention," RA boss Andy Marinos said in a statement.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said it was "hugely disappointing" for fans and the Australian players, who are already in Perth.
"I just feel there is only one of us who are interested in doing what's best for the game," the New Zealander told reporters at Perth Stadium.
"It tells you more about them than us ... we've all made sacrifices to ensure that games are played for the financial benefit of the game.
"It's all about them, without any concept of what it's doing over here."
Barring South Africa's match against Argentina in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, the rest of the Rugby Championship schedule remains up in the air as Australia and New Zealand fight fresh COVID-19 outbreaks.
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said tht the governing body felt it prudent to keep the All Blacks at home.
"Once the team leaves our shores, they currently can't return until Nov 23 post their northern tour, so given the uncertainty, it makes sense to pause and get more clarity on these fixtures," he said.
Robinson later added that he understood Rugby Australia's frustration and disappointment and suggested that NZR were open to playing the Perth Test on Sep 4.
SANZAAR, the governing body which organises the Rugby Championship, said it was in discussions with stakeholders about the schedule.
NZR said it had also cancelled the New Zealand women's rugby Tests against Australia in Christchurch on Sep 26 and in Auckland a week later.