Can trans-Tasman relations survive two versions of Bledisloe brouhaha?

Can the relationship between Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby be repaired? Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If only all relationship breakdowns could be solved with barefoot walks in the sand on Manly beach.

The chances of Mark Robinson and Andy Marinos replicating the Kiwi's effort with Rob Clarke, the former interim Rugby Australia [RA] chief executive, from late last year are however hugely unlikely after the New Zealand Rugby [NZR] boss scratched the All Blacks from Bledisloe III.

The series may have been decided and the trophy returned to its NZR cabinet, but the Bledisloe brouhaha that has been created by Friday's decision has thrust trans-Tasman relations back to where they were this time last year.

And given both Robinson and Marinos are basically alleging the other is telling porky pies, what had been a repaired alliance now instead looks like a relationship headed for divorce court.

On Saturday, speaking on radio station Newstalk ZB, Robinson stood by his claims that RA hadn't been blindsided by NZR's decision to release news of the All Blacks' withdrawal to the media.

"Yes, as I said, we had calls right through Wednesday and Thursday, we put something in writing on Thursday and then we spoke to them before anything was released," Robinson said.

Talking on Channel 9's Sports Sunday, Marinos meanwhile doubled down on comments he made in a release that followed NZR's own document saying RA had indeed been blindsided by NZR's decision to release a media statement confirming the All Blacks wouldn't be flying to Perth.

"The context around all of that is that we had had an emergency call on Thursday morning to try and get clarity around what the future structure was, South Africa had given us a very clear indication that they could host the [Rugby Championship].

"So that certainty, if we couldn't deliver it in Australia, we could go to South Africa as a fall back, so to speak, Mark and the New Zealand guys had put a pretty unrealistic deadline on us of 12 o'clock for Friday.

"I was on a call with him on Friday to ask him to at least give us some time till 3 o'clock when we had a further SANZAAR call to make a final decision. They weren't prepared to do that, they were pretty adamant in terms of their decision, but at no stage during that time did he mention the fact that he was going to be making a public statement about this.

"And that is what really completely blindsided all of us, they unilaterally went and made a public statement before we had had an opportunity to engage as a SANZAAR group. And certainly for us to understand the enormity of the decision they had taken.

"It's pretty clear to me I don't think they really had any intention of fulfilling that game on the 28th."

While the third Bledisloe encounter, which RA had already once shifted from August to 21 to 28, might still well be played a week later on Sept. 4 or another date found later in the year so that the more than 55,000 people in Perth who had bought tickets can still watch some rugby, there is also the ongoing matter of the 2022 Super Rugby season to be finalized.

Just last week, Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan told Stan Sport that he was hopeful the tournament would be rubber-stamped in the coming weeks. But similar claims to that effect have been made since early June, and that was long before Friday's events ever transpired.

And this is the same competition that NZR originally only offered two, or potentially three Australian teams, inclusion within. Reasonably insulted by that invitation, McLennan later stated he thought the trans-Tasman relationship was at its lowest ebb.

If only the RA chairman had a crystal ball.

Throughout this year, against the significant backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated issues it will create for a cross-border competition, RA executives have remained cautious at completely committing to the planned 12-team Super Rugby tournament in which Moana Pasifika and Fiji Drua are also seeking inclusion.

Of this year's Trans-Tasman crossover series, in which Australian teams won just two of 25 games, McLennan in June noted how the television ratings in his own country had tapered off since Super Rugby AU while New Zealand's had increased. It does of course help if your teams are winning, and McLennan's five sides were simply not doing much of that.

And so talk of an imbalance between the two countries in exactly how the new tournament would operate and how the finances would be carved up arose, so too that RA was targeting a conference model that would have ensured some finals action for the Australian teams in the new competition.

Negotiations were progressing before Friday's drama with a round-robin format understood still to be the favoured option, though the derailment of Bledisloe III has certainly added another layer of tension for when the two parties return to the table to finally settle on a Super Rugby structure.

Could the talks fall apart completely and this year's setup be retained for 2022? It is not completely beyond the realms of possibility, and given the challenges COVID continues to present it would in no way be a surprise to see either party put the full trans-Tasman reunification plan in the too-hard basket for 2022.

There is also a situation where NZR and RA sort out their Bledisloe differences, and alongside their SANZAAR partners green light the back half of the Rugby Championship, paving the way for smoother negotiations to recommence around Super Rugby.

But there is no question that the trans-Tasman partnership has taken another significant blow and that while ever the truth in the Bledisloe brouhaha disputed, working together is surely going to prove problematic.

Sure, relationships can be repaired, but there comes a point when some decide the union is no longer worth saving.

The trans-Tasman partnership has been on shaky ground for much of the pandemic and perhaps there is some merit in recalling the story of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.

When Robinson and Clarke walked the famous Manly strip together the idea that Australia and New Zealand, united together, was not only a necessary force, but also a potentially powerful one, seemed genuinely credible.

But while ever the versions of the truth are disputed by NZR and RA, it's hard to see how this relationship can operate amid its latest nasty turn. Even if it does, who's to say another ugly chapter of turmoil isn't just around the corner?