With news reports surfacing this week of South Africa joining an eight-team competition in November, fears are growing that a full exodus from SANZAAR by South Africa will become a reality.
For New Zealand Rugby, the ramifications would be far reaching off the field as well as on it.
Blues duo James Parsons and Tony Lamborn and Bryn Hall of the Crusaders discussed on this week’s Aotearoa Rugby Pod what would happen if South Africa’s Super Rugby sides left for Europe and potentially opened the door for the Springboks to find a new home in an expanded Six Nations.
“It’s going to be a bit of a dagger,” said Bryn Hall of the four South African Super Rugby sides, “for those boys to leave to go to the Pro14 in Europe.”
Hall believes the Springboks and All Blacks clash is the pinnacle test match of the international calendar, describing their would-be departure as “a massive blow”.
“They are our oldest foe, and yes we have the Bledisloe Cup which is dear to our heart, but every time we get to play South Africa in The Rugby Championship, for whatever reason, there is just no better test match.
“It’s going to be a massive loss if they head off. It will be a massive blow for us having that calibre of players leave.”
USA flanker Tony Lamborn, who was born and raised in the South Island of New Zealand, explained that historical matches between the All Blacks and the Springboks were a defined part of his childhood memories, getting up in the wee hours to watch the games with his family.
“As a kid growing up, waking up in the early hours to watch the All Blacks play South Africa, those are my memories. My old man making a hot chocolate and sitting there watching those games,” Blues flanker Tony Lamborn recalled.
“I’ll be absolutely gutted if they were to withdraw.”
Lamborn explained the feeling within some players in South Africa is a preference towards playing in the Northern Hemisphere.
“I’ve got a couple of mates in South Africa and they feel it is a lot easier for them to just play in Europe and play over there.”
Blues teammate James Parsons surmised that the demand for the Springboks following their World Cup victory is aiding their leverage, and that the financial rewards available in the North Hemisphere are tempting.
“Covid has opened things to change. They are the world champions, so they are in hot demand. They’ll end up somewhere, but there are so many variables to go into it.
“Not just the players comfort of being in the timezone, but she’s a different bracket of dough when you go up to the Northern Hemisphere. There is a reason a lot of players go up there after playing for their home nations and achieving what they want to in international rugby. It’s a different kettle of fish in that sense.
“What does Springbok rugby look like when they go and join Northern Hemisphere competition? There are so many variables that can impact the decision.
“Say it happens, say they leave, do we think that it will hamper All Black rugby? Does our depth, our talent pool, our ability to play each other keep us strong? Do we need that nation that bad?'” he asked.
Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall was adamant that without the Springboks, New Zealand Rugby could suffer. He said it won’t just be South Africa that benefits, the top sides of the Northern Hemisphere will all strengthen in an “iron sharpens iron” way.
“We 100 percent need them,” Hall said of South Africa’s involvement in SANZAAR.
“If we were to lose them, and no disrespect to Australia, with the change of guard they are going through and their struggles with depth in Super Rugby, you think about South Africa going up to the Northern Hemisphere, the likes of France, England, Ireland, Wales, all those team playing against each other, its only going to make them better.
“Who do we go to? So, it’s us, Aussie and possibly Argentina, Japan, do you think of a Pacific Island team? Who knows.
“I just think the level of competition, we would be at a disadvantage.”
Hall’s view was shared by Lamborn, who says the type of rugby the Springboks play is unique to them and gives the All Blacks a different kind of contest.
“I agree 100 percent, it’s bringing the best out of players, you get a different style of game out of them [Springboks], it’s that physical game for the All Blacks.
“South Africa are nailing their set piece, relying on their lineout, their mauling, their scrummaging, and I just don’t think you are going to get that with the Australians and Argentina.”
Parsons was a strong believer in the future of the Wallabies under Dave Rennie, which would potentially help the All Blacks receive fiercer competition. He said if South Africa is lost to Southern Hemisphere rugby, it is a case of rebuilding with what is left.
“With Aussie, with Dave Rennie, I just think they are going to thrive. The more and more I watch Super Rugby AU, they are on their way back. I genuinely believe that, I’m not just saying that.
“I think they will be a lot stronger under his guidance, he’s come at the right time where there is a really strong young group, their U20 team has been really successful the last couple of years, and he’s got a proven track record out of bringing the best out of young men, mentoring them with their careers.
“There’s also Japan, let’s not forget what they achieved in the World Cup. We’ve got this potential opportunity of growing the Pacific game, which has been a dream for a long time, and we have Argy, we don’t know where they are at.
“I agree, we can’t lose the Springboks, but I still think there is the opportunity to create something strong enough to keep us strong, but also the Southern Hemisphere strong.”
Listen to the full episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now