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Opinion

Should South Africa participate in the Rugby Championship?

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Roar Guru
14th October, 2020
201

Within the next 48 hours we will know what SARU’s intentions are. We will know whether they will send the Springboks to Australia or not.

There has been a number of articles discussing the issue and it seems clear from some of the rugby supporters in Australia and New Zealand they don’t give two hoots as to the quality of the rugby South Africa will bring to the party.

Whether the Springboks arrive underdone, have to spend Christmas in quarantine, whether they have enough time to prep or whether they are match fit: these are all things which do not seem to matter.

Only one thing matters to them: bring your bloody team over here, if we pounce them, tough s**t. We need the money and your wellbeing or reputation means diddly squat.

Well, we are the current Rugby World Cup and Rugby Championship Champions, so forgive us for being a little protective of our rugby status. Truth be told at this point I don’t give two hoots about your demands.

Damian Willemse

Damian Willemse is touted as a future leader of the Springboks. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

The negatives at this point for SA rugby outweigh the positives in my opinion.

Domestic rugby
Forget for a moment the fact that this year has been impacted due to Covid-19, let’s cast our minds back to the importance and stature the Currie Cup had in South Africa in the 80s.

Due to isolation it was the be all and end all of rugby for South African fans, provincial rivalry was healthy, everyone hated Naas Botha, Carel du Plessis was the Prince of wings and we were mostly ignorant of the outside rugby world.

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Then the professional era came along and the Currie Cup started fading to the point of obscurity.

I don’t need to tell anyone how Super Rugby has encroached on our domestic seasons and after too many restructures and expansions lost credibility, popularity and viewership to the point where even SANZAAR had to wake up and smell the roses.

Along came Covid-19 and impacted on the 2020 season to the point where the NZRU and RA both decided to run their own domestic Super Rugby versions, and for the most part it has proven to be very successful.

Unfortunately for South Africa the lockdowns and status of Covid-19 has delayed our version of Super Rugby Unlocked to the point where this coming weekend we will see the second round of matches taking place. Important to note that the Stormers will only be playing their first match this weekend.

The impact of Covid-19 has amongst all the negatives forced SARU to focus on domestic rugby and the single round Super Rugby tournament will be followed by the Currie Cup and then lead to finals mid January.

Most importantly this is the one opportunity for SARU to see whether we should focus our future with developing our domestic rugby competitions with possibly only a short Cross Border Championship style competition at the end of our domestic season, rather than the ill-conceived idea of joining Europe in the Pro 16.

Getting involved in another conference format seems silly to put it mildly. SARU should have learnt from the failed expansions of Super Rugby.

Impact of Rugby Championship on domestic rugby
Should SARU decide to travel to Australia for the Rugby Championship it would have a major impact on our domestic rugby.

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An enlarged squad is needed, which means the quality of Super Rugby Unlocked will take a nosedive, it will also completely devalue it, hence for the rest of the domestic season Super Rugby Unlocked will just be a watered down Currie Cup.

Thus the opportunity to assess the viability of developing domestic rugby as the way forward is lost and confirms undoubtedly that we will join Pro 16.

One issue that hasn’t been discussed very often is the Cheetahs and Kings. While the Kings have been a failure on and off the field it is a very important cog in the development of rugby talent in the Eastern Cape.

The Cheetahs have been a gold mine when it comes to developing rugby talent in South Africa and with Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers moving to Pro 16 that leaves them out in the cold.

The only way I see SARU successfully develop and maintain our rugby strongholds is by focusing their professional structure at home, slowly building domestic rugby by using every source of talent available to them, I don’t want to go into too much detail now, but suffice to say Eastern Cape rugby and Free State rugby cannot only be just another b grade funded rugby player pool.

Francois Louw of South Africa during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina.

Francois Louw of South Africa during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Rugby Championship
Information (could just be gossip) suggests there are two options SARU is looking at for the RC, one is the full six weeks and the other only joining for the last three match, thus playing half a tournament.

If South Africa joins for the full six weeks they would need to be on the plane this week in order to comply with quarantine regulations and have an extra week preparation before playing Argentina on the 7th of November. It would mean their overseas players (if released) would only leave their respective squads after 22 October.

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I would suggest the logistics and practicality of playing Argentina on the 7th would take some genius planning and a whole lot of luck. In all honesty, if I was the coach, I would not entertain such thoughts.

If South Africa only joins for the last three rounds it would provide them more time to play an extra few matches of Super Rugby, or alternatively give the whole squad more preparation time. This is infinitely more doable than just rushing over to Australia.

Summary
There are three options on the table. My preference would be option one, don’t go, the future of our domestic rugby is more important than appeasing a bunch of Aussies and New Zealand supporters who don’t give two hoots about us.

Option two, rushing over to OZ to play in a tournament they are not ready for. Nope, not interested for all the reasons I have already mentioned.

Option three, the compromise, still not my preferred option as it still impacts our domestic rugby, but at least the Boks would be in better shape.