JOHANNESBURG – New Bulls director of rugby Jake White believes a domestic competition that will be split in two could add greater value to South African rugby than lumping all eight teams into one competition.
SA Rugby are hoping to get the green light from the government any moment now for dates to be set for an eight-team domestic competition, which will effectively replace Super Rugby, the Pro14 and the Currie Cup, which were all halted months ago because of the new coronavirus.
Various models have been discussed to allow the Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas to play each other from next month until December in what is called a bio-safe environment, with the other option being teams flying in and out of venues and cities on charter flights on the same day.
White said on Thursday he’d heard there was now also a possibility of the eight-team competition being split in two in the first of what would be a two-round competition.
“You could have the four Super Rugby teams in one pool, in one venue, and the other four teams in another pool at a different venue,” said White, who took over as Bulls boss earlier this year.
“By having two bio-bubbles, you’d get a Super Rugby-like competition being staged between those teams, like it is in New Zealand and Australia, and that’s what sponsors and broadcasters want.
It would also mean strength playing against strength for the first part of the competition, and would serve as trials for the Springboks, who’d be pulled out of the competition in the second round to play in the Rugby Championship (in November and December). In the second round, the teams could play across the groups.
“This is all speculation about what could possibly happen, but it would add value for the Bok coaches, too.”
White added the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas would also be evenly matched in their pool (were they to be grouped together) and that once the Boks had been withdrawn from the four “Super Rugby” sides all eight teams would be more closely matched – for the second round of matches.
White has been a busy director of rugby during lockdown, bringing in several big-name players to the franchise, and letting many others go. He said the players were now almost desperate to get out and play.
“There’s plenty of excitement in the group,” said the former World Cup winning coach.
“They’re like kids who’ve been kept inside for too long, and we’re now close to opening the door and letting them go out onto the grass to play.
“This time in our lives is amazing. We’ve never been through anything like this; we can’t wait to get back to playing.”
With the players currently only allowed to do non-contact training, White was asked how much time he thought he needed for his players to be ready for action. “I’d like six weeks, but that won’t happen. What Covid has taught us is that what you want and what you get are two different things. But that’s okay; there are other factors at play and we need to get back on the field,” said White.
He said the performances of the New Zealand teams in their on-going domestic competition had given him hope the Bulls will hit top form soon after the restart. “We don’t want to copy them, but we can take a lot from what they have done, especially the intensity with which they have played. They have shown what is possible and what is achievable in a short period of time.”