Not everyone is jumping for joy over the increasingly likely prospect of the South African teams competing in Europe. The management of heretofore Super Rugby franchise – the Stormers – says there is a split among its players over whether rugby in Europe is the best route for the game.
The five-country PRO14 tournament could expand with the Sharks, Lions, Bulls and Stormers joining the Cheetahs and Kings in the league, while South African teams joining the EPCR tournaments is also a possibility. Nothing is as yet confirmed but both New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia seem intent on divorce from SA, at club level at least, to pursue a more localised format.
Stormers coach John Dobson says his plays are ‘split’ on the European alternative to southern hemisphere rugby.
“I have been having one on ones with the players for the last three days and they seem quite split themselves,” Dobson revealed earlier this week.
“A senior Springbok said for too many years we have been chasing New Zealand and trying to play their rugby and that the northern hemisphere would actually suit us. Another Springbok told me he liked playing New Zealand teams because we know we are testing ourselves against the best.
“There might be a bit of opportunism to use the travel restrictions to throw Super Rugby out being used by New Zealand and Australia, but it’s a reality for 2021. Personally, it would be sad to see it go.
“They can punish you so hard, so quickly if you aren’t on top of your game. In the northern hemisphere, you can grind it out. All of us are probably following New Zealand.”
Dobson admitted that in terms of the breakdown, European sides have an edge. “The change in the breakdown is staggering in their domestic competition and it is going to change how we coach the breakdown… if we aren’t playing, we have to be disciplined enough to learn because they are ahead in terms of that stuff.
There has been speculation that a PRO18 could be split into three regionalised to conferences to limit the amount of travel in the Covid-19 era.
SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux hasn’t dismissed. Speaking in June he said: “In terms of PRO14, I’m absolutely keeping on with my negotiations and have been for the last 18 months on the expansion of South African teams. What that would look like in a post-Covid world, I can’t tell you at the moment,” he said, adding that SA Rugby had to explore all potential options following the pandemic stoppage of rugby and the financial hardships that this had caused.
“In each and every one of these options in the future, there is a rugby decision that will probably carry around 40 per cent of the weight in the vote. I can guarantee that the other 60 per cent will be commercial decisions around the cost and logistics.
“We’ve got fewer airlines flying, higher airline costs, borders that are not open… those conversations and plans are being developed at this moment and we are looking at each and every option that is available.
“The last thing we want is a situation where we haven’t thought about the worst-case scenario and haven’t had the necessary foresight to plan for that,” continued Roux, who also admitted on the show that the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa could be delayed until later next year.
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