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Rugby: South Africa returns as Rugby Championship schedule announced

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – World champions South Africa will return to the Rugby Championship this year but it is not entirely back to normal for the southern hemisphere test championship, governing body SANZAAR said in announcing the fixtures on Friday.

The 2020 tournament was played entirely in Australia and renamed the Tri-Nations after the Springboks pulled out amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Africa will host two matches against Argentina in this year’s tournament with the remaining 10 matches split evenly between Australia and New Zealand.

“We simply cannot play matches in Argentina at present due to the impact of the pandemic,” SANZAAR chief Brendan Morris said in a statement.

“Nonetheless, the exciting news is that we do welcome back South Africa to the Rugby Championship after a difficult 2020 when the pandemic made it impossible for them to participate.

“As last year, the Pumas will play all their matches away from home and we thank them once again for their understanding in this regard.”

Argentina mounted a remarkable campaign last year, coming out of lockdown and quarantine to beat the All Blacks for the first time and drawing twice with the Wallabies.

The tournament opens on Aug. 14 with the Springboks, who will be battle hardened after hosting the British and Irish Lions tourists, taking on Argentina in South Africa and concludes with the final two tests on Oct. 2.

Australia will open their campaign in traditional fashion with back-to-back matches against New Zealand, the first on Aug. 21 in Perth and the return in Wellington the following week.

Those two matches will double as Bledisloe Cup contests with a further test outside the Rugby Championship at Eden Park in Auckland on Aug. 7 opening the annual Trans-Tasman series.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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