JOHANNESBURG – Will the Springboks ditch their Sanzaar partners and skip this year’s Rugby Championship to rather play in a Europe-based Eight Nations competition? That is the big question now after weekend reports linking the Boks to a competition in the northern hemisphere later this year.
It is believed the Boks have been lined up to replace Japan in an eight-team competition, involving the Six Nations sides – England, Wales, Scotland, Italy, France and Ireland – and Fiji. Japan this week withdrew from the proposed competition, forcing organisers to find a suitable replacement.
And apparently the World Cup winners, the Boks, are said to be the organisers’ first choice pick to take on the best Europe has to offer as well as Fiji.
The only problem is that the proposed competition will run from November 14 – at the same time as the newly scheduled Rugby Championship which the Boks are legally obliged to play in due to their commitment and partnership in the Sanzaar alliance. That competition, set to take place in a bio-bubble in New Zealand, is scheduled to be played between the All Blacks, Wallabies, Pumas and Boks, from November 7 to December 12.
Just last month, when news broke that New Zealand were looking to play in a new trans-Tasman, cross Pacific Super Rugby type of competition minus the Springboks from next year, SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said he, in turn, was looking at new options, too, for the future and that is would be irresponsible of him if he didn’t have a Plan B and C to consider.
But, Roux also said there were legally binding agreements between the four Sanzaar partners to see out their current deal, which may scupper any chances of the Boks leaving the four-nation partnership early to play in Europe later this year.
The SA Rugby boss has, however, used the word “fluid” on multiple occasions to describe the uncertain future of rugby and its competitions and schedule, implying anything is possible.
The Springboks playing in any competition though – be it up north or in New Zealand – would be dependent on the national players getting game time domestically first, and there is still no clarity about when rugby will start up again in this country. South Africa’s home-based players haven’t played any rugby since mid-March when the spread and threat of Covid-19 forced all rugby to be suspended, and while the players have been involved in non-contact training for weeks they will only start making contact from today.
A domestic competition involving the four Super Rugby sides as well as the Cheetahs, Griquas and Pumas is in the pipeline, but no dates have been set for the competition to start. The Kings would have played in the Currie Cup-style competition, but last week suspended all activities for the rest of the year because of financial constraints.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs who, along with the Kings, are set to be chucked out of a proposed bigger South African entry to an expanded Pro 16 competition from next year, believe they are contracted to feature in the Europe-based competition until 2023.
The Cheetahs and Kings joined Pro rugby in 2017 when they were axed from Super Rugby and now face also being axed from Pro rugby in favour of the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.
To make “qualification” for Pro rugby fair, Cheetahs boss Harold Verster, allegedly proposed in a meeting of SA Rugby bosses last Friday that the top four teams in this year’s Currie Cup (if that competition gets off the ground) play in Pro rugby next year, according to Rapport newspaper.