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Matt Williams claims Celtic sides might never win Six Nations again if Boks join

By Ian Cameron
Louis Rees-Zammit is tackled by Siya Kolisi /PA

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Former Scotland coach Matt Williams has claimed that the Celtic nations might never win the Six Nations again if the Springboks were allowed to join.

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The claim was made during a Virgin Media Sports discussion centred around Italy and their ongoing viability in the tournament, after they fell to a 32 – 22 loss to Scotland in Rome.

Italy have now lost 36 times consecutively in the competition, and despite a promising young side emerging under New Zealander Kieran Crowley, winning still appears to be out of reach for the Azzurri.

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The disheartening run of losses has of course given rise a yearly debate around their continuing in the tournament and the debate this season has been coloured by talk of South Africa eventually joining.

The Six Nations have firmly denied any changes on this front are afoot, but it hasn’t stopped pundits pondering what a Springboks side in the Six Nations might look like.

Shane Horgan warned that Italy could go another 36 games without a win if the isn’t meaningful change.

“On the evidence of today, it’ll be another 36 games before they win a game in the Six Nations.

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“Unless there’s fundamental change, the drumbeat for South Africa to be in this is are going to get louder.”

Despite Wales and Ireland having won seven of the last ten Six Nations, Williams then made the odd claim that Ireland, Scotland and Wales could face never winning the tournament again if South Africa joined.

“The problem with international rugby is that it is the result of long-term athletic development. You can’t develop the group required at the national team – it has to be done before they get to the national team,” Williams said.

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“That’s why the academy systems and club systems are so important. I’m going to say something here, disagreeing with Shane [Horgan]. If South Africa come into this competition, the Celtic countries will face not winning, possibly ever, the competition again.

“That cannot happen. The Welsh, the Irish, and the Scots cannot enter into a competition that is traditionally theirs, where they say, ‘the chances of you winning this in the future are almost nil.’

“How are Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, going to go down to Pretoria at altitude in the summer and win?”

It seems like an odd claim, given Ireland have won on South African soil as recently as 2016, a tour where many felt they were unfortunate not to pick up a series victory against the Springboks, with just six points separating the sides in all three Tests.

What makes it even more odd is that in a theoretical competition involving the Boks, every other year the Celtic sides would be hosting the Springboks at home, where all three have toppled the Springboks in recent years.

Horgan did disagree with Williams’ point, saying: “I don’t think that’s the debate. Because I think that could happen [winning in South Africa].

“I think it would become very difficult to win a Grand Slam under those circumstances but that’s not the point.

“I’m saying that they shouldn’t be in this tournament. But there will be a drumbeat that will continue which says ‘how can we continue with one nation that loses every single game… and it can’t continue.

“Unless it’s changed, someone at someone will say ‘to make this more competitive, we’ll get South Africa in there’. There’s a difference between not being competitive and losing every single game for six years.

“It’s not even close.”

Williams then pointed out: ‘I think the last six years, everyone is disappointed with Italy. There’s no two ways about it, including the Italians. There’s no joy for Italian rugby in any of this.

“I think a serious conversation needs to had with the leadership in Italian rugby about what they’re doing with their programme.

“If we switch this on their head, at the beginning of professional, Ireland were right down the bottom o the ladder. They went about building up their clubs and their academies and now we’re in the situation where Ireland are winners.

“The solution to this is not going to come in 12 months. We look at France, who are going to win the Grand Slam at the end of an eight year plan. It started when these kids, the current players, were 16, 17 and 18.

“The trouble is we’re hearing the opposite. That they taking out of their systems.”

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