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'I hope that we can get back to that': Springbok and ex-All Black wants to see South African sides return to Super Rugby

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks and Highlanders star Ben Smith hopes Super Rugby hasn’t seen the last of South Africa’s involvement in the competition.


Super Rugby went through an overhaul last year after COVID-19 resulted in border closures worldwide, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the competition.

With international travel still severely limited, teams within New Zealand and Australia subsequently formed their own domestic competitions – Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU, respectively.

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The South African franchises, meanwhile, have jumped ship to join Europe’s PRO14, with their first involvement in North Hemisphere club rugby coming in three weeks when they take part in the Rainbow Cup.

Neither the Jaguares, out of Argentina, nor the Sunwolves, from Japan, survived the dissolution of Super Rugby following the outbreak of the pandemic.

The competition is expected to revert back to a 12-team tournament next year, with the New Zealand and Australian franchises set to compete alongside two Pacific Island-based teams in a league with far more favourable time zones for trans-Tasman fans than when the South African sides were involved.

However, Smith, who is now plying his trade in Japan’s Top League for Kobelco Steelers, told Stuff he was concerned Kiwi Super Rugby players will miss out on the benefits that come with the exposure of playing against South African teams.


Renowned for their large, physical forward packs, Smith said the South African franchises provided him and his teammates with strong challenges that helped their development as professional rugby players.

“The whole time I was playing Super Rugby it was awesome to test yourself against the South African Super Rugby teams,” the 34-year-old, who played 81 tests for the All Blacks and won a Super Rugby title with the Highlanders, said.

“Having New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina in the competition, it also brought a different perspective on how they [each nation] played rugby.

“I know Japan with the Sunwolves as well…it was a big part of development for all of those countries, and I hope that at some point down the track we can get back to that.

“As a player we always enjoyed those battles against South African Super sides.”

Smith’s sentiments were echoed by Springboks and Toyota Verblitz fullback Willie le Roux, who said his compatriots would prefer to play New Zealand and Australian players rather than against themselves, as they have been since returning to action last September.

“I couldn’t agree more,” the former Cheetahs and Sharks star said of Smith’s comments. “Now every week [in South Africa] the guys are having to play against each other.

“I think they’d much rather play against the Aussies and the All Blacks. It’s trials every week. I’ve been watching New Zealand Super Rugby as well. It’s hard on the guys to be playing each other each week.

“You are going to miss those days when you toured New Zealand and all those places, and I think Ben could say as well when they were touring SA.

“I really hope it can get back so the guys can play each other, but I think the Rugby Championship is there as well to test yourself against the best.”

While it appears the days of South African teams taking to the field against their Southern Hemisphere rivals at club level are over, the Springboks will still regularly do battle with the All Blacks, Wallabies and Los Pumas in the Rugby Championship.

Despite the nation’s four ex-Super Rugby franchises heading north, South Africa pledged its commitment to SANZAAR’s premier international competition last year after they opted out of the 2020 edition of the competition due to fears around COVID-19.

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'I hope that we can get back to that': Springbok and ex-All Black wants to see South African sides return to Super Rugby