Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere is set for further disruptions this season with the Springboks set to withdraw from the first three rounds of next month’s Rugby Championship.
The South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) have continuously suggested that the competition may be a step too far for the Springboks, who have only recently returned to play following the suspension of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The competition is due to kick off on October 31st with the Springboks’ opening game a week later, but The Telegraph has reported that South Africa want to delay their entry into the tournament.
While the All Blacks and Wallabies will have had plenty of rugby under their belts by the time the Rugby Championship kicks off, thanks to their local Super Rugby iterations as well as the two Bledisloe Cup games in New Zealand, South Africa’s top players have only featured in two matches at this stage.
It’s a similar story for the Pumas, with the Argentinians yet to play a first-class fixture since the resumption of their season. Argentina, however, have already made the trip to Australia while the Springboks have not left home.
South Africa’s partial withdrawal will cost SARU millions of dollars in lost revenue while the other three SANZAAR nations will also take a sizeable hit.
Whatever form the competition takes in 2020, broadcast rights will need to be re-negotiated as a four-team, six-round competition was initially signed off on. One possible option is adding an additional team from Australia or Oceania to the competition.
As recently as last month, SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos was confident that the competition would go ahead as planned and that all four teams would be on board.
“I don’t think so. There’s too much at stake,” Marinos said when asked if the 2020 tournament was at risk.
“It’s just about how we can best manage individual needs of all the unions and this is the challenge we’ve got with the whole pandemic, there’s complexities at every single corner.”
In a statement issued last Saturday, SA Rugby outlined it still hadn’t signed off on the Springboks definitely participating in next month’s tournament.
“The Springboks’ ability to participate in the Rugby Championship would be finalised early next week,” read the statement.
“The team is due to defend its title in Australia between November 7 and December 12, but several hurdles need to be cleared if it is to be confirmed.”
There have been suggestions that SARU’s comments were simply a way of lowering expectations for the world champions, given they would be under-prepared compared to the All Blacks and the Wallabies.
Former World Cup-winning Springboks coach Jake White, currently coaching the Bulls in the South African domestic competition, has previously said he didn’t think the team would be ready for the Rugby Championship.
“I understand fully that it’s not the ideal preparation and, probably, if I was a coach I’d be asking SA Rugby to try and find ways in which we don’t participate because the situation is a bit unfair,” White said after the Bulls game in Pretoria.
“There are locally based players who’ve only played two competitive games and now have to go into Rugby Championship. It’s not ideal.”
White conceded that the financial implications of a withdrawal may force SARU’s hand, but the union has evidently decided that the possible repercussions of taking part in the competition outweigh any financial consequences.
SANZAAR released a statement earlier today saying it had given South Africa further time to work through their plans for the Rugby Championship before any formal decision is reached.
“Following a SANZAAR chief executive’s teleconference call on Tuesday, 13 October, the SANZAAR member unions have agreed to provide South Africa Rugby with an additional 48 hours to finalise its internal stakeholder discussions,” the statement read.
“This will now delay the scheduled departure of the Springboks from South Africa to Australia.
“SANZAAR will provide an update on the resolution of these discussions and a timetable for the Springboks’ participation in The Rugby Championship when available in the coming days.
“The Bledisloe Cup fixtures between Australia and New Zealand on Saturday, 31 October, and Saturday, 7 November, in Sydney and Brisbane respectively, are unaffected and will go ahead as scheduled.”
Even if South Africa do join the competition from the outset, the delay in their travel to Australia will almost certainly lead to re-scheduling of their opening match Argentina.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now