Trans-Tasman comp up in air as World Cup battle looms
Rugby Australia is already making contingency plans to have its five teams just keep playing each other over and over again if the proposed trans-Tasman crossover competition falls over before it even begins.
Running a tournament that looks like Groundhog Day is the last thing RA wants right now as it desperately tries to reignite public interest in the struggling code and stop the exodus of players from heading overseas but officials may have little choice after the latest COVID outbreaks on both sides of the ditch.
There's still hope that the planned crossover tournament against the stronger New Zealand teams will take place as scheduled in May and June but the boardroom suits in both countries are prepared to add a third round to their domestic competitions if crossing international borders becomes too hard.
The Kiwis let the cat out of the bag over the weekend and sources confirmed Australia is now looking at the same scenario unless a trans-Tasman travel bubble can be re-established.
The international rugby calendar for 2021 and beyond is even cloudier with still no decision yet on where the Rugby Championship will be played because of the uncertainty about whether northern hemisphere teams will travel south of the Equator this year.
The biggest concern remains over whether the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa will proceed, either behind closed doors or in Europe, with Australia's proposal to step in as host rejected.
The Wallabies are waiting for confirmation on whether France will go ahead with their planned tour of Australia in July, with no dates or venues announced yet.
Officials remain hopeful, with a decision not expected until the end of March.
That has forced a delay to the start of discussions about this year's Rugby Championship.
It is understood the preference is to stage the Rugby Championship in either Australia or New Zealand, or possibly both countries, but talks have not even begun.
The two countries fell out badly last year when Australia was chosen to host the tournament ahead of the Kiwis but they have since kissed and made up after finally figuring out they need each more than ever.
The balance of power had shifted irrevocably to the northern hemisphere but it wasn't until world champions South Africa made it clear where their future is - pulling out of last year's Rugby Championship and sending their provincial teams to Europe - that the penny finally dropped.
However, a new row is brewing, with RA and NZR both once again at odds with Europe.
Both countries are backing a plan to extend the duration of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France despite vocal opposition from the northern hemisphere.
Already scheduled to take place over 43 days, 16 more than the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which features 12 more teams, organisers of the next RWC want to add an extra week to the tournament by moving the final from October 21 to 28.
The proposal has been put forward by players' unions, who want to ensure that all teams have at least five days between games to reduce injury. They have also asked that squads be increased from 31 to 33 players.
Expected to be ratified next week, RA is understood to support the proposal as long as the extra week is tacked on to the end not the beginning, although powerful English officials have joined Premiership Rugby clubs in strongly protesting the change.
Originally published as Trans-Tasman comp up in air as World Cup battle looms