Rugby: NZ Rugby announces 2021 All Blacks fixtures

The All Blacks will play home and away tests against Italy as part of their 2021 international schedule.

On Thursday, NZ Rugby announced that the Azzurri will play two-tests against the All Blacks in the July window, then host them in Rome as part of the end of year European tour.

Also included on that tour will be tests against Ireland and France.

NZR says it's working on adding more games to the tour's itinerary, potentially involving a North American team, a Barbarians fixture or a stop-off test against the likes of Japan.

"We've got a relatively new All Blacks group that are coming together and have had a very truncated programme this year, so we want to provide opportunities for them to play," says chief executive Mark Robinson.

"There's obviously financial considerations too which go in with these decisions, but we’ve got to balance that with player welfare.

"There are opportunities in areas like the United States, Asia and the UK and Europe that we're open to at the moment and we’re working really hard on those and making good progress."

Fiji will also visit in July for a one-off test match, taking on the All Blacks for the first time since 2011.

The Rugby Championship will begin in late August and - pandemic pending - will return to its status quo format.

"We are working on the basis that we hope that by the end of July and into August that we’re travelling, and we’re working as closely as possible with government and health officials around possibilities of what quarantine could look like, and to get a greater sense of what vaccines could be available at that time," Robinson says.

Meanwhile, NZR says it needs more time to decide the future of the Mitre 10 Cup.

The current dual-tier premiership and championship format with promotion and relegation has been active since 2011.

But a review of the provincial game earlier this year recommended that changes should be made, the details of which Robinson suggests won't be confirmed until early next year.

"We've established the fact that we’re going to reach out to our stakeholders in the very near future and working on a basic principle," Robinson says.

"The same number of teams, played across the same window, look at a couple of different options and share those in a little more detail and work through with our key stakeholders."

But Robinson was able to confirm that the Farah Palmer Cup would return under its original model in 2021, as would the Heartland Championship, which this year was cancelled due to the financial and logistical pressures of COVID-19.

The women's domestic competition was separated into north and south pools, but will revert to the same premiership-championship model as its male counterparts next season.