SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos and NSW minister Stuart Ayres say the strictest of protocols will apply to the Argentina rugby team and that a plan is in place if a positive COVID-19 test is recorded as the logistical headache of organising a Rugby Championship with four international sides begins.
A five-month process to confirm fixtures, dates and locations came to an end on Thursday as SANZAAR, southern hemisphere rugby's joint venture, trumpeted the six-week rugby festival taking place in Australia from November 7 to December 12.
While New Zealand Rugby dug its heels in and fumed at a final December 12 fixture, which could see their players in Christmas Day hotel quarantine, there are a multitude of issues to navigate through before the tournament starts in just over six weeks.
The Pumas, who have had over a dozen players and staff test positive to COVID-19 in recent weeks, are being monitored closely by SANZAAR and health officials.
SANZAAR has paid for the Argentina squad to relocate to Montevideo in Uruguay – 80 per cent are there at the moment – to minimise the risk of any more coronavirus infections.
They are being tested for COVID-19 every 72 hours and will have to record negative results on departure and after arriving in Australia before basing themselves in a team bubble for 14 days, likely to be at a facility in Parramatta.
Marinos said the squad was expected to fly to Australia in the first week of October and reiterated Pumas coach Mario Ledesma's view that it was highly unlikely there would be issues.
"Initially there were [concerns] but we've worked pretty hard with them and the health authorities," Marinos said. "The plan is to give them a couple of games here because it starts.
"NSW Health have identified two hotels in Parramatta where the guys will go into a forced lockdown and quarantine period for a few weeks and move from there to safe zones to do all their training. They'll have testing on day two, day five, day 10 and day 12 as they go through that quarantine process."
Asked whether a positive COVID-19 case would spell the end of the tournament, Marinos said: "It depends how NSW Health will deal with it. I don't think it's going to be too dissimilar to the NRL where we had [Bulldogs player] Aiden Tolman's family involved and he got pulled out of the bubble and he got tested and had to isolate. The guys are bringing over extended squads, so if we have that kind of situation I think we'd isolate the individual, put them into a quarantine, make sure the rest of the squad is good and try and work around it. We're going to have to work hand in glove with health authorities."
Stuart Ayres, the NSW Minister for jobs, investment and tourism, said quarantine arrangements would be managed by NSW Health and NSW Police.
"We've obviously got some experience running quarantine and training bubbles," Ayres told the Herald. "We did it with the New Zealand Warriors at the start of the NRL season, so we'll be using our experience and lessons learned out of that. The evaluation of [Argentina] will be ongoing right up to the point in which they arrive. We've run over 60,000 people through our hotel quarantine program. We're confident we can set the structure up."
Crowds of 50 per cent capacity will be allowed for double-headers at Suncorp Stadium (November 7), Bankwest Stadium (November 14 and December 5), ANZ Stadium (November 21 and December 12) and McDonald Jones Stadium (November 28).
"It was quite an important factor in terms of the profitability of the event," Marinos said. "It's also about wrapping people's heads around the fact that you buy an entry ticket and you get two Test matches in close succession."
Broadcasters have made it clear they want evening matches, with 5pm and 7.30pm AEDT time slots being worked towards.
"We need about an hour at least between games," Marinos said. "There's a fair bit of work … you've got to change out the dressing sheds, you've got to change all the media backdrops. From a kick-off time, we're working closely with Fox and Sky in terms of making sure it's optimal for them but appreciating that South Africa and Argentina don't necessarily want to get games in 1am and 2am in the morning because it's a value conversation for them."
There's also a chance that for the first double header in Brisbane, with the Wallabies taking on the All Blacks, all four teams could fly up together from Sydney on the same plane.
"It's extraordinary times and we've got to do extraordinary things," Marinos said.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of Rugby Australia's hospitality tickets were snapped up on Thursday, including 95 per cent of those available at Suncorp Stadium and 100 per cent at McDonald Jones Stadium, prompting the governing body to ask for more space for corporates in Newcastle.
Tickets to the general public go on sale on October 8.