The decision by South Africa to withdraw from the upcoming Rugby Championship in Australia has been widely welcomed by Springboks fans. It was announced this Friday that the world champions will not be travelling to take part in the tournament.

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SA officials cited “complications related to the Covid-19 pandemic and concerns about seriously jeopardising player welfare” as the reasons for not taking part. 

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said that the spread of South African players across many leagues in the world made congregating them for the tournament too complex. 

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Dave Rennie announces the Australia team for this Sunday’s Bledisloe II

He said: “This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners but the ongoing impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare.

“Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories.” 

While the current pandemic may be the leading cause of this decision, the South African public are looking at this at another angle. The 2019 Rugby Championship winners have not played a Test match since winning the World Cup last November and although Australia and New Zealand have only played one so far, both nations have played a lot of domestic rugby. 

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Meanwhile, domestic rugby in South Africa has only just resumed after months of inactivity. There were concerns among Springboks fans about sending a severely underprepared team to the tournament. These are the sentiments shared by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who highlighted the discrepancy in preparation between the competing nations, although Argentina are in a similar position to the Springboks. 

Though a large contingent of players based in Europe have been playing frequently in recent weeks, those based in South Africa or Japan have not and Erasmus said players need a minimum of 400 minutes of game time before playing Test rugby at the Rugby Championship.

The priority for many fans is to ensure South Africa are focused on the British and Irish Lions tour next July and August, and travelling to Australia may not help that. Having said that, as it stands South Africa do not have a fixture before the first Test against the Lions next July. 

That match could potentially be the team’s first match in almost 20 months, although surely arrangements will be made in the intervening time. 

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