New Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos has reinforced chairman Hamish McLennan's extension of an invitation to South Africa and the British & Irish Lions to contest their series Down Under, but insists having the Wallabies take on France is the governing body's priority.
Marinos at last got his feet under the desk at RA HQ on Monday morning, the former SANZAAR boss welcomed to Moore Park with a traditional Indigenous smoking ceremony. Marinos steps into the position fulltime after Rob Clarke had held the role in an interim capacity following the departure of Raelene Castle.
Clarke left Australian rugby in good shape having overseen the creation of ground-breaking broadcast deal and the successful staging of the Tri Nations tournament, which produced arguably the biggest sporting upset of any code in the COVID-affected 2020: Argentina's victory over the All Blacks.
And international rugby remains a key focus for Marinos as he embarks on his journey with RA, a situation that has been heightened by McLennan's offer to the Springboks and Lions over the weekend.
The invitation set tongues wagging across the global rugby community, generating varied feedback in both support and opposition to the prospect of the series being contested on neutral turf.
"I think the most important thing is that we have got to do everything we can this year, and I say we as in the global rugby community, to make sure we have international rugby," Marinos told reporters in Sydney.
"I know certainly from a SANZAAR perspective when I had to have all those conversations with our broadcasters around our inability to play the July Tests, the disruptions we had with the November Tests, and certainly in the changed format of the Rugby Championship, it had a significant impact on everyone's businesses. So that's got to be the main priority.
"And second you've got to say where can we play these games, in what country have we got the best shot of getting Test rugby up?"
While the ongoing COVID pandemic has the potential to again wreak havoc on the global rugby calendar, the Wallabies have a three-Test series against France penciled in for the July Test window.
It will be Les Bleus' first visit since 2014 at a time when they are on a wave of improvement, driven by the success of an Under 20s program that won the Junior World Championship in 2018 and 2019, the latest triumph seeing them defeat the the Junior Wallabies in the final.
Marinos is adamant the Wallabies-France series will be RA's priority, but backed McLennan's media-heavy approach in spruiking Australia's ability to host international sporting events.
"Now when it comes to the Lions, our main priority is getting our French tour underway, having the French over here and complete that tour," he said.
"If part of that and through that process we can provide a safe haven or an environment where the British & Irish Lions tour can continue, then why wouldn't we? It's so important for the global rugby content and the global rugby community that we have international rugby played with as little disruption as we can get throughout this year...it's a significant point in the rugby calendar, the Lions tour, every four years.
"So I certainly know there's a will to getting it underway, it's just where? They've spoken about possibly having in the UK, and possibly having it in South Africa with a very different look and feel around how it's going to end up being presented.
"So my chairman's extension of the rugby friendship to the British & Irish Lions, and South Africa, is exactly that: to say that if we can help in any way, we certainly will."
A more immediate focus for Marinos will be a successful kick-off for Super Rugby AU, which was on Sunday thrown into uncertainty by the West Australian Government's decision to lock down Perth and its surroundings for five days following a case of community transition of COVID-19.
Western Force are due to host their opening game against the Brumbies on Feb. 19, but they again may face the prospect of having to relocate to the eastern seaboard, as was the case for the entirety of the 2020 season.
"I think you've certainly got to keep it all open and on the cards," Marinos said. "I know the RA team have been working feverishly with all the States, all the Super clubs, in terms of how best we can put the competition together and, no doubt, the conversation with them [the Force] like what they did last year, in basing themselves down here in Sydney.
"Until we've got some stability or certainty on borders, it would certainly have to be considered this time around."