South African Rugby are suggesting that if their players are forced to spend more time in a strict bio-bubble on their northern hemisphere series, then they will have to consider cancelling the entire tour.
The discussion has reared its head with the Springboks heading home for a well-deserved short break after a gruelling Rugby Championship campaign that was capped off with Saturday night’s last-gasp win over the All Blacks.
Like Argentina, the Boks have been on the road and living in a variety of lockdowns, bubbles and restrictions for a long time. Many have been unable to see their families in the flesh for almost four months since the series against the British and Irish Lions kicked off in June.
Unfortunately, the time at home will be short-lived as they are due to head to France in late October before then playing Wales, Scotland and England in November.
That means another eight weeks of being away from home and living in isolation – and those at the South Africa Rugby Union are worried it will prove detrimental to the squad’s mental health.
SARU president Mark Alexander made his views clear when interviewed this week by the NZ Herald. “Another strict bio-bubble is out of the question, it will break the players,” he said and he’s not the only one who is concerned about the impact on the team.
Senior team member, Duane Vermeulen, shared his thoughts when interviewed by rugby365. “If you are not here, you don’t really understand the whole thing that we are going through. It’s not as easy as people think. You are away from home, you are away from your family and you don’t see your kids,” he said.,
Unfortunately for the group, under current British rules, South Africa is on their “red list” and, as such, the team will have to isolate for ten days on arrival. After a brutal few months, questions are being raised about whether this is all worth it for three more Tests.
This theme is being echoed across other sports as well, with negotiations still taking place as England and Australian authorities try to find suitable quarantine and isolation arrangements for the Ashes tour.
With the Boks putting in their best performance of the Rugby Championship in the final round, they will be disappointed not to be able to use the upcoming tour to build on this momentum.
Coach Jacques Nienaber has highlighted the tough balance that needs to be struck when considering the impact on the team’s performance by not playing, and the impact on their well being by having to play under COVID restrictions.
“I don’t think we are at the level that we were in 2019 yet, due to the fact that we haven’t played a lot in 2020. We are not where we want to be but this momentum will help, building forward hopefully,” shared Nienaber after the win on Saturday.
With the Springboks due to head home for a couple of weeks, there is time to figure out how to make the travel North as safe for all as possible, but if they do travel, then they will likely have to endure some periods of isolation and lockdown and that could be a step too far.