New Zealand plan to play 15 Tests in 2021

New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson has revealed Covid-dependent plans for the All Blacks to play 15 Test matches in 2021, including a mouthwatering clash with France in November.

Robinson gave a greater insight into what New Zealand’s 2021 Test schedule could look like during a media conference in Wellington on Thursday, with the opposition for two Tests still to be finalised.

The All Blacks played only six times in 2020, four of those against Australia, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had the mid-year internationals cancelled and the Rugby Championship cut down to the Tri-Nations.

However, an ambitious plan, entirely dependent on the state of the coronavirus pandemic, has New Zealand playing 15 Tests in just six months next year.

The All Blacks plan to host Fiji and play Italy twice in July before moving on to a regular home-and-away Rugby Championship schedule against the Springboks, Wallabies and Argentina. It would be the first time that New Zealand face Fiji since 2011.

‘The All Blacks’ schedule for 2021 is starting to take shape. We are looking to host, Covid-dependent, Italy and Fiji in July,’ Robinson told New Zealand media.

‘We are also … hoping to finalise the Rugby Championship schedule as well as Bledisloe Cup and a third Bledisloe [Test] for next year.’

New Zealand’s plan for November is to play Tests against Ireland, France and Italy. Two more matches in November are being negotiated and might be played at venues in Asia or the United States.

‘We are also looking at opportunities to play games outside of our regulation nine [international] window in November,’ Robinson said. ‘At the moment we are due to play Italy, Ireland and France in those three weeks, but we’re looking at games on either shoulder of that fixture list in November or potentially two games before our first game in Europe against Italy.

‘We’ve got a relatively new All Blacks group that are coming together and have had a very truncated programme this year, so we want to provide opportunities for them to play. There’s obviously financial considerations, too, which go in with these decisions, but we’ve got to balance that with player welfare.

‘There are opportunities in areas like the United States, Asia and the UK and Europe that we’re open to at the moment, and we’re working really hard on those and making good progress.’

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