Spedding: Dump Italy, Boks 'would hold their own quite easily' in Six Nations
With South Africa’s top four franchises having exited Super Rugby to play in the United Rugby Championship, there is growing speculation that the reigning Rugby World Cup holders could swap the Rugby Championship for the Six Nations when the broadcast agreement comes to an end in 2025. The Springboks’ participation in the four-team tournament has been confirmed until then by SANZAAR but the suits at SA Rugby haven’t hidden their intent to transform the domestic game and align with the northern hemisphere.
The Six Nations competition organisers recently released a statement which sought to underline that they ‘are not entertaining any discussion nor developing any plans to add or replace any participating Union’ but Spedding believes it’s time to shake up the status quo.
“It will be fantastic to see the Springboks play in the Six Nations,” Spedding tells RugbyPass in an exclusive from his holiday home in South Africa. “I believe it makes so much sense commercially and travel-wise for South Africa to join the competition. As much as it will be tough for the traditionalists to accept as it would change the flavour of the Six Nations, the world champions would fill stadiums and it would be fantastic to see European teams play the Springboks more often.”
Spedding suggests that it’s time for Italy, who joined the Six Nations in 2000 and have lost 34 consecutive matches, to make way for the Springboks in order to allow for an increased level of competition and preserve the northern hemisphere’s premier international competition.
The ex-France international, who was a member of the 2015 team that blanked Italy 29-0 in Rome, pulled no punches when asked about the Azzurri’s ongoing future in the competition.
“The reality is that Italy don’t add much value to the tournament and the Springboks would be a breath of fresh air,” says the 35-year-old, who retired from professional rugby in 2019 having played for four French outfits. “I’m all for the game evolving and rugby becoming more exciting but the problem is that we have got stuck in traditional ways of doing things.”
While there has been pushback in terms of Italy’s potential Six Nations exit with Sir Clive Woodward labelling it ‘brainless’, Spedding reveals that when he was part of the French team from 2014 to 2017, they would focus on maximising their points differential when they faced Italy and never felt they were in danger of losing to the Italians. Of the 21 Six Nations tournaments Italy have been a part of to date, they have been wooden spoonists 16 times.
“For us, and the other teams that came up against Italy in the Six Nations, the plan was always to get as many points as possible against them because that could count when you got to the final round and the winner had to be decided on points difference.”
Spedding’s candid admission is a damning indictment of Italy’s ongoing presence in the competition. Italy are currently rooted to the foot of the Six Nations table after opening round defeats to France and England. They are on course for yet another wooden spoon, which makes a mockery of their continued participation in the north’s premier competition.
Spedding believes that the Springbok’ style of play is well-suited to the northern hemisphere game and the men in green and gold would make a seamless transition into the Six Nations.
“The Six Nations is an extremely tough competition. I played in three editions of the tournament and it’s a different style of rugby in the north and the conditions are tough. But it’s probably just the type of rugby that suits the Springboks because they are physical upfront and do plenty of kicking,” he notes. “There is no doubt that the Boks are a quality side and I’m pretty sure they would come in as favourites. I think they would hold their own quite easily because they have a favourable record against the northern hemisphere sides.”
Some have suggested that the Springboks leaving behind the Rugby Championship and not facing the All Blacks on a regular basis could have an adverse effect for the nations ranked first and second in the world game and with a combined six World Cup titles between them.
“I think it’s a fair point. South Africa have had a lot to do with New Zealand’s success over the years and visa versa. There is no doubt that the Springboks and All Blacks playing against each other so frequently makes them extremely challenging opposition when they face other countries. You are only going to get better as a team playing against top quality sides. If South Africa join the Six Nations, it might have a negative impact on both South Africa and New Zealand because those matches make you battle-hardened as a team. But the people at the top have to make those sorts of decisions and see if it’s a rugby or commercial decision.”
Over and above calling for the Springboks’ entry into the Six Nations, Spedding is of the view that a global season needs to be introduced as soon as possible in order to level the playing fields. While a global season has long been touted, the suits at World Rugby are still stalling.
“We need to move to a global season at some stage and see the best of the best playing against each other all the time,” says Spedding, who featured at the 2015 World Cup. “If a global season were to be implemented you would have everyone fresh at the same time which would be lovely to watch. Unfortunately, at the present moment I fear that we are a long way from there with some of the stuffy traditionalist suits who still run World Rugby.”
Spedding references France’s three-Test series of South Africa in 2017, in which the Springboks claimed a clean-sweep, as a case in point. “When we toured South Africa five years ago, we had to play against the Springboks who were just starting out their season, while we were at the end of ours. We had already played 11 months of rugby, so we were on a hiding to nothing. And when the Springboks come to Europe they are also at the back-end of their season. As spectators, we want to see strength versus strength all of the time.”
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