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Exclusive: All Blacks turn their backs on autumn internationals

All Blacks

The All Blacks are set to abandon their three-match British tour this autumn, a decision which will cost England, Wales and Scotland more than £20m.

Their move towards cancelling Tests scheduled for Cardiff, Twickenham and Murrayfield on successive Saturdays in November is based on advice from the New Zealand government. It follows a warning from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that their borders will ‘remain closed to the rest of the world for a long time’.

The Rugby Paper understands that the New Zealand Rugby Board are preparing to sacrifice their UK fixtures rather than risk jeopardising the country’s success in virtually eliminating the Covid-19 pandemic from their shores. It will tear yet another gaping hole in the sport’s dissolving finances.

The news comes hot on the heels of RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney’s claim that the prolonged effect of lockdown threatens to cost the world’s richest Union £107m within the next 12 months. His Welsh counterpart, Martyn Phillips, estimates Wales stand to lose around £50m.

England-New Zealand is being promoted at Twickenham as ‘one of the most anticipated matches in rugby’, all the more so since England smashed the All Blacks’ World Cup monopoly in Yokohama. In addition to £10m plus guaranteed in ticket sales of 82,000, the RFU stand to lose another fortune from other commercial spin-offs.

The Official Twickenham Hospitality website shows that tables of ten for the match have been sold out, at £14,490 per table. Various agencies are advertising single tickets at up to £799.

Instead of touring, New Zealand plan to launch a series of matches involving their Super Rugnby franchises followed by a four-Test series against Australia, all behind closed doors. The respective governments took a major step last week towards making it possible by creating a trans-Tasman ‘bubble’, allowing free movement without any quarantine requirements.

World Rugby’s executive council meet by video link on Tuesday against the backdrop of a crisis worsened by the increasing fear of no crowds being allowed to attend Tests before next year.

They also have to make momentous decisions on how the global season is going to look. One effect, according to power-brokers, will be to move next year’s truncated Lions tour of South Africa from July to October.

Despite claims to the contrary from Sir Bill Beaumont following his re-election as World Rugby chairman, discussions to move the Six Nations are on-going as reported by The Rugby Paper last week.

According to more than one source, the matrix for a global season calls for the Rugby Championship to be played at the same time as the Six Nations. That would bring the Southern Hemisphere event forward from its usual July kick-off and put the Six Nations’ February start back by several weeks.

Beaumont’s ‘why-would-you-want-to-change’ the Six Nations has provoked an angry response from Sir John Kirwan, formerly coach of Italy. “I think we should leave World Rugby,’’ he said on Sky in New Zealand. “I think we’ve got to make a stand. This is classic horse-trading.

“For Bill Beaumont to come out straight away and say ‘we’re not even going to look at the Six Nations’…. he’s sold that to the Six Nations to get their votes.

“The All Blacks have said they want change. This (Covid-19) is the biggest event to happen in the world and everyone has said we have to change but not the Six Nations. It’s great to see Sir Clive Woodward saying we need to change but nothing’s happened.

“I love the Six Nations. I’ve coached in it. I’m not saying it has to be changed but at least let’s have a discussion about it otherwise it’s a waste of time.’’

Change needed: All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan has urged NZR to disassociate themselves from World Rugby. Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

‘Super Saturday’s triple-header, France-Ireland, Italy-England, Wales-Scotland, postponed from last month, is being tentatively pencilled in for October 31. On the club front, European Professional Club Rugby has served notice of completing the Champions’ Cup on dates set aside for next season’s competition in the autumn with the final on October 17.

“We, the PRO14, Gallagher Premiership and Top 14, have informed World Rugby we will exercise our right to complete the tournament on our dates in October,’’ EPCR chairman Simon Halliday said last Saturday. “We fully intend that to happen but everyone, of course, is subject to being able to play.

“If we get the chance to play the outstanding matches, we should play them with or without spectators.’’

EPCR meet this week to decide the format for next season, whether to reduce the Champions Cup from 20 to 18 (six pools of three) or increase it to 24 (six pools of four). Restricting qualification to the top six from all three, incompleted club competitions would eliminate Toulouse who finished seventh, one point behind Clermont.

PETER JACKSON

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