By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia will kick off their 2021 season with three tests in 11 days against France in July, with Les Bleus players and staff to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine while fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
The opener at the Sydney Cricket Ground on July 7 marks the return of midweek test rugby for the Wallabies for the first time in nine years.
The action shifts south to Melbourne on July 13 before the finale at Brisbane's Lang Park four days later.
France will bring out a squad of up to 40 in two groups, and the entire cohort will have been vaccinated before arriving, Rugby Australia (RA) chief executive Andy Marinos said on Friday.
They will quarantine in Sydney but be allowed to train during the mandatory 14 days, similar to Argentina's arrangements when the Pumas toured Australia for last year's Tri-Nations.
"The French team are going to be coming out here fully vaccinated which is a positive and coming out in a bubble," Marinos told reporters.
The last time seventh-ranked Australia played a midweek test was in 2012 against Scotland -- a match they lost 9-6.
Marinos said RA had wanted three tests in successive weekends against the French but could not secure agreement with global governing body World Rugby.
"We are very cognisant of the fact that it is a very short turnaround between test two and test three," he said of player welfare concerns.
"Both teams will have extended squads.
"There's quite a comprehensive plan that has been put in place certainly from a Wallabies perspective in terms of how we're going to manage the players, manage the workload."
Fifth-ranked France last visited Australia in 2014, when they were thumped 3-0.
Sydney will be the first meeting between the sides in almost five years, with Fabien Galthie's France confident after finishing second in the Six Nations.
Australia and France last met in Paris in 2016 with the Wallabies winning 25-23.
The series also marks the return of July internationals in Australia, a year after organisers were forced to abandon tests against Ireland and Fiji due to the pandemic.
(Additional reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris and Sam Holmes)