DURBAN – The more the rugby world tries to clear the Covid-19 waters, the muddier they become and the game in South Africa now sits with the possibility of playing a Currie Cup later this year that will be full strength for one round and seriously diluted for the second.
As it stands after World Rugby yesterday confirmed the dates of return to play for Test matches, the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship will take place in New Zealand at the same time as the second round of the eight-team Currie Cup that was confirmed by SA Rugby on Tuesday.
SA Rugby envisages the Currie Cup starting on the first weekend of September and running through to a final on December 12, but World Rugby has said this year’s Championship will be hosted in full in a single country (New Zealand because they are Covid-19 free) over a reduced six-week period from November 7 and December 12.
It is reliably known that if the Springboks indeed have to contest the Championship, along with Australia and Argentina, they will have to take an enlarged squad of 42 players to New Zealand so that there is depth in all positions because reinforcements cannot be called up – a new player arriving would have to be quarantined for 14 days.
Also, the squad would have to arrive a fortnight before the Championship for the same reasons, further eliminating the later quality of the Currie Cup after an initial full blast.
It truly is not in South Africa’s interests to play the Rugby Championship and I would wager that Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will be hoping the international season is ultimately written off and the (probably underdone) Boks are not compromised by playing a competition in which they would be set up to fail.
South Africa are also predicted to join the Pro14 in the wake of the disintegration of Super Rugby but World Rugby has now announced the dates of the new Pro14 competition, to start next month, and there is no inclusion of the South African teams other than the Cheetahs and the Kings.
This would suggest that South Africa’s much publicised move to the North would only be post the British and Irish Lions tour next July, for a new “Pro16” starting a year from now.
This would also mean that in the first half of next year – in the six months preceding the visit of the Lions – we will see a true strength v strength domestic competition, but it is unlikely to be called the Currie Cup.
In a nutshell, as the way forward for South African rugby stands right now, television broadcast revenue is pushing the Springboks to contest a Rugby Championship in New Zealand that they do not want (and won’t be adequately prepared for) and that would also compromise domestic rugby for the rest of this year.