Rugby: Mark Robinson unfazed by COVID-19 challenges, predicts bright future for NZ rugby

While his short tenure as NZ Rugby's chief executive has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark Robinson sees a bright future ahead.

The former All Blacks centre took the reins from Steve Tew in January, but his first nine months at the helm have been rough.

Not only has coronavirus played havoc with the game, both domestically and internationally, but Robinson has also been tasked with scheduling a revamped Super Rugby competition, overseeing a new broadcast deal and an ongoing spat with Rugby Australia over the future of the game downunder.

But the 46-year-old is unperturbed and focused on ensuring the game thrives beyond the unforeseen circumstances of 2020. 

"Challenges like this are exciting to be a part of," Robinson tells Newshub. "There have obviously been some frustrations along the way, but I love the game and I love the people involved in the game, and I'm really excited about the possibilities for our future. 

"We just have to keep working through this next little while to understand the full ramifications of COVID and how the future of the game might look beyond next year.

"We are really excited about re-imagining aspects of the game and there is an opportunity for us to improve in all levels of the game. I'm loving being involved in all of that."

One of those positives is the return of day-time Bledisloe Cup tests, with NZR confirming the All Blacks and Australia will play on back-to-back Sundays next month, with a 3:30pm kick-off time.

Robinson tells Newshub the success of afternoon rugby during Super Rugby Aotearoa was telling, and afternoon tests are an exciting prospect for All Blacks fans and the players.

"Based on the reaction we had during Super Rugby Aotearoa and then into the announcement, we've had a lot of positive feedback coming back and that it's bringing families back to the games can only be positive for the game in New Zealand.

Robinson admits he's crossing his fingers that the country is relatively coronavirus free come October 11 & 18 respectively.

NZR is counting on packed houses at both Wellington and Auckland, given they are the only two tests the All Blacks will play at home this year. 

"That will be critical to the overall success of the events. Everything, we are led to believe, is fairly positive around that at the moment, but as we have seen in the last couple of weeks, you can never be too sure.

"We will continue to stay close to the relevant authorities there and begin our contingency plans in the coming days, now that we have got it all signed up and across the line, and be nimble and agile, as we have been throughout this process."

Robinson also confirms the NZ Government gave no directive to shift the test dates to avoid a direct clash with the national election on October 17. 

"To move to the 11th was about giving the Wallabies as much time as possible, post quarantine, to prepare. When you flow through that, it's pretty natural to have a seven-day break. 

"We see a benefit in avoiding the election directly, but we are also thrilled about the possibility of bringing afternoon rugby back too.

"There are dual benefits I guess."

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