Rugby Championship hub now favoured for Australia

Speculation is mounting that Australia will host the Rugby Championship hub, rather than New Zealand, in what would prove a double-edged sword for the Wallabies and new coach Dave Rennie.

Tournament stewards SANZAAR are due to meet on Thursday with a decision about whether the tournament proceeds, and where it will be held if it does get the green light, due to be handed down on Friday.

Separate reports in the Australian media on Wednesday suggested New Zealand's once firm grip on hosting the tournament "hub" had loosened significantly with Australia emerging as the front-runner following ongoing uncertainty with the coronavirus restrictions across the Tasman.

But where Perth had originally been pegged as Australia's hub location, it now seems Queensland and, potentially, New South Wales, could host the tournament set to be staged from Nov. 7 through Dec. 12.

ESPN understands that Perth was Rugby Australia's preferred destination and the governing body even opened discussions with the West Australian Government, only to have the prospect quickly rejected by the state's tourism board.

The West Australian Government had made a huge play for the AFL Grand Final only to see the AFL award its season decider to Queensland, while W.A. also refused a Cricket Australia proposal for India to serve their quarantine in Perth ahead of the four-Test series with Australia later this year.

While having the entire Rugby Championship played in Australia would be a huge boost for the game, particularly given both the AFL and NRL seasons would be at end - save for two games of the rescheduled State of Origin series - it would mean that the Wallabies would face the daunting task of back-to-back Tests in New Zealand to start Rennie's reign.

Australia had been due to host two Bledisloe Cup Tests in a three-match series in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic caused complete disruption to the existing Test season.

Extending the Bledisloe Cup to a four-Test series was flagged as an option early in pandemic, as first reported by ESPN, but the potential switch of the first Two Tests to New Zealand would make Rennie's first-up assignment even tougher.

The Wallabies would need to win three of the four Tests to regain the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2003.

Speaking with ESPN last week, attack coach Scott Wisemantel said planning for what remains an unknown Test structure was indeed proving difficult, but that the Wallabies wouldn't be hiding behind excuses once they eventually get together, potentially as early as Sunday week.

"It's difficult, it's been really challenging, there are a whole bunch of different models of what might happen; what might not happen," Wisemantel told ESPN.

"But the one thing we know is that we're going to be in camp for about two weeks and we're just trying to bed that down, the content in the camp and to get excited about the camp wherever it is; it could be Queensland, it could be NSW, we don't know."

The All Blacks have already named their squad, Ian Foster's first as head coach, after having the benefit of a virtual trial match when the South defeated the North 38-35 on Saturday night.

Asked whether the Wallabies could have benefited from a similar game, or an internal trial of sorts, Wisemantel said: "Players go head to head every day. In camp, if they're not going head-to-head then they're going to be second or third wherever they are in the pecking order. So everything we do will have an element of competition, because that's the game. So they'll be going head-to-head every day."

The shift in favour towards Australia as host of the Rugby Championship has come after COVID-19 reemerged in New Zealand communities after more than 100 days without a case of local transmission.

The country announced six further cases on Tuesday with the New Zealand Government keeping the country on Level 2 restrictions until at least Sep. 14. Under level two restrictions sporting events are permitted, but without the presence of crowds.

With reduced crowds permitted to attend sporting events in both Queensland and New South Wales, SANZAAR may favour an Australian hub over New Zealand's uncertainty with supporters clearly adding to the atmosphere and viewing experience for television broadcasts.

Queensland Reds are hoping for a crowd of in excess of 15,000 people for their Super Rugby AU qualifying final against Melbourne Rebels on Saturday night.