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New Zealand and Australia restart Test rugby

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New Zealand and Australia played out a 16-16 draw in front of more than 30,000 fans in Wellington on Sunday, in the first rugby Test since the Covid-19 pandemic shut the sport down.

The Bledisloe Cup match was the first international Test played since the Six Nations was suspended in March this year. It was also the first international game for the competing sides since the World Cup in Japan over a year ago.

To satisfy New Zealand’s stringent quarantine regulations, the Australian team spent the last two weeks living and training in quarantine in Christchurch.

Fans in the stadium were not mandated to wear face masks, and most did not. Each fan’s entry to the stadium was recorded and they were provided with hand sanitiser. Before the match, fans were advised not to attend if they felt unwell.

With New Zealand on its lowest pandemic alert, Level 1, the second Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park in Auckland next weekend will also go ahead with no restriction on fan numbers.

Sunday’s game had an added edge as New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia have been involved in an off-the-park squabble over hosting Sanzaar competitions the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby, and related quarantine restrictions.

Australia recently won the rights to host the Rugby Championship ahead of New Zealand, which had previously been favourite to host the event.

However, the four-nation tournament, which includes Argentina and South Africa, may still be under threat, with South African Rugby still unable to confirm its team’s presence. SA Rugby issued a statement on Saturday saying a decision on its participation would not be made until this week.

According to an AFP report, SA Rugby officials are waiting on guidance from the country’s sports ministry. A ban on international sport by the South African government was only recently lifted.

The financial impact of not competing against Australia, New Zealand and Argentina in the October 31-December 5 tournament would be powerful for SA Rugby. The organisation cut 1.2bn Rand ($73m/€61.7m) from its 2020 budget due to the pandemic and is reported to be picking up 300m Rand by playing in the Rugby Championship.