Sydney could miss out on hosting a Bledisloe Cup fixture for the second time in three years and for the first time outside a World Cup year since 2006 as Rugby Australia pushes on to host one match against New Zealand on home soil in Perth.
While there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before the international calendar kicks off in July, rugby officials are desperate to ensure the Wallabies feature in more than 2020′s tally of six tests.
Australia squared off against the Kiwis in four consecutive tests last year. Michael Hooper’s men drew the first test in Wellington, fell in Auckland and Sydney to ultimately squander the Bledisloe Cup, before salvaging some pride in Brisbane with a 24-22 victory.
There is hope 2021 will return to some semblance of normality. New Zealand is set to host two of this year’s three Bledisloe Cup matches, meaning Australia will need to chalk up a win across the ditch to regain the trophy they have not held since 2002.
RA has an agreement with the WA government to take another Bledisloe match west after Perth hosted the Wallabies in 2019 when, under coach Michael Cheika, the team stunned New Zealand in a 47-26 victory.
For years, Sydney has been synonymous with Bledisloe fixtures, but the Harbour City missed out in 2019 when there were only two matches – in Perth and Auckland – due to the World Cup in Japan.
The decision in 2019 was in part due to the Sydney Football Stadium rebuild but the All Blacks look destined to play elsewhere in 2021 as well, provided the draft schedule remains in place and COVID-19 doesn’t once again cause headaches for organisers.
Outside of World Cup years, the last time Sydney did not host the All Blacks for a test came 15 years ago. The three trans-Tasman matches of 2006 were contested in Christchurch, Brisbane and Auckland – a series New Zealand won 3-0.
The Wallabies have a miserable record in Sydney against New Zealand. They have lost their last four matches by an average of almost 30 points, including an embarrassing 43-5 defeat in October.
Sydney, however, will almost certainly host a Rugby Championship match, assuming South Africa and Argentina can travel out later in the year.
RA says a fourth Bledisloe match, as an extra money spinner, is unlikely to be squeezed into the calendar for 2021. Speculation a Bledisloe fixture could be taken overseas has also been hosed down.
The governing body is keeping an eye on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines given amount of international travel normally on the cards for teams later in the year.
Following Super Rugby AU (February 19 to May 8) and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman (May 14 to June 19), France, the fourth ranked team in the world, is expected to tour for three tests in July. However, there has been no official confirmation of the tour, though it appears likely at this stage.
A problem could arise with quarantine protocols and particularly so given the Top 14 final is scheduled to be played one week before the first test in Australia.
RA chairman Hamish McLennan has already flagged inviting teams from around the world to Australia if COVID-19 restrictions make test action hard to come by in their own countries.
The British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa is already under a major cloud.
Meanwhile, there is hope Australia can tour to the northern hemisphere for the first time since 2018. Matches have been pencilled in against Scotland (November 6) and England (November 13), while there is talk of a December 4 fixture against Wales in Cardiff.
That could mean a grand slam tour for the first time since 2016, should the Wallabies tackle Ireland in one of the two remaining weekends in late November.
AT A GLANCE
Possible Australian rugby calendar 2021
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