Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) -
Argentina's Rugby Championship clash with Australia was thrown into chaos Thursday after six players were ruled out for breaching coronavirus health orders with an unauthorised trip into New South Wales from Queensland state.
The group, which also included two staff, headed to Byron Bay for a health retreat from their Gold Coast base and were stopped when they tried to return across the state border into Queensland on Wednesday evening.
Under Covid-19 rules, anyone wishing to enter Queensland from a designated Covid hotspot area, like neighbouring New South Wales, must have permission or face mandatory quarantine.
'This travel across the state border is a direct breach of the present Queensland government health orders and Sanzaar's Rugby Championship tournament biosecurity plan,' governing body Sanzaar said in a statement.
'All members of this group are now ineligible to participate further in the Rugby Championship as they have breached tournament rules.
'Sanzaar is very disappointed that such a breach has occurred given the clear rules that are in place to ensure the health and safety of all players and staff, and compliance with all relevant health orders,' it added.
Argentina have a 44-strong squad and the game will go ahead on the Gold Coast Saturday, but with capacity capped at 75 percent in Cbus Super Stadium after the state imposed new restrictions Thursday following six new community cases of Covid-19.
The players involved were Sebastian Cancelliere, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Felipe Ezcurra, Pablo Matera, Santiago Medrano and Santiago Socino, with manager Lucas Chioccarelli and video analyst Rodrigo Martinez also with them.
Tighthead prop Medrano and No.8 Matera are first-team regulars who started the 27-8 defeat to Australia last weekend, while hooker Socino frequently comes off the bench.
It is another major headache for coach Mario Ledesma, whose team have lost all five of their tournament games so far. He is due to name his team later Thursday.
- Top priority -
Argentina Rugby (UAR) told AFP the players and staff stuck in New South Wales were all in 'perfect good health' and holed up at a hotel awaiting their fate.
'For now, their only limitation is the temporary impossibility to go through the state jurisdiction and return to Queensland to meet the rest of the team members,' it said.
'For the UAR, bringing a solution to this issue has become a top priority.
'At the same time, an internal process has been put into place in order to clarify and to determine responsibility for what has happened.'
Queensland Health said it was in talks work out what happens next, with Los Pumas due to fly out of Australia on Sunday after the Rugby Championship wraps up.
The scandal comes just days after Ledesma lashed out at Sanzaar and Rugby Australia because a captains photo shoot in Townsville last week went ahead without Pumas skipper Julian Montoya.
The Argentina team had yet to arrive in the Queensland town and a fuming Ledesma slammed the decision to press on anyway as 'disrespectful' to his team and country, saying 'it hurts a lot'.
Sanzaar and Rugby Australia subsequently issued an apology, admitting they made a mistake.