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Opinion

The Thursday rugby two-up: One bio-bubble too many for the ‘Boks and Pumas?

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Expert
6th October, 2021
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The Rugby Championship has been run and won for another year, and the results and upsets and comebacks added a proper unpredictability about it all that tells us rugby in the southern hemisphere isn’t in too bad a place at all, generally speaking.

I very nearly brought the panel to a halt this week, after I completely forgot about the weekly email to the guys on Sunday night – I blame the NRL Grand Final, and will not be taking questions at this time! But we are going to continue each week right through the Spring Tour, with so many story lines around all our teams heading north.

And this week, there’s a few question marks floating around about the tours themselves, and just like England’s male cricketers currently taking the temperature of their feet ahead of an Ashes Tour, whether the thought of yet more bio-security bubble arrangements might yet prove too much for some players.

Los Pumas have essentially spent the last year on the road, and their coach Mario Ledesma was adamant that rest and recovery was their biggest priority ahead of Tests against France, Italy, and Ireland.

“They finished their seasons in Europe, went to play the July internationals. Two weeks later, three weeks later we were playing South Africa after ten days of holidays,” Ledesma said post-match on Saturday night.

“It’s not the best way to prepare. They need a little rest.”

Jaguares head coach Mario Ledesma during the Super Rugby match in 2018.

Mario Ledesma (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Similarly, the Springboks have been living in some degree of lockdowns, bubbles, or restrictions for months this year. Many players haven’t seen their families in the flesh since the British and Irish Lions series began in June.

“Another strict bio-bubble is out of the question, it will break the players,” SARU president Mark Alexander told the New Zealand Herald this week, with the very real suggestion that they will consider cancelling their tour.

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Clearly, there are a number of delicate conversations to be had. And there’s no doubt some players will just decide they’ve had enough of touring bubbles for the moment.

But do they have a point? It’s certainly worth discussing further…

Question 1: It’s been a long two seasons under COVID conditions and restrictions, so does this Spring Tour shape as one bubble too many, especially for the Springboks and Los Pumas?

Digger
I am unsure how to answer this question as I have no real context from my own experiences to relate to such an ask.

As a fan, I am very much looking forward to the tour and how the All Blacks and others shape up against some of the big boys from the North and who, let’s not forget, made it down to visit us (albeit the majority with the Lions) so the effort should be made to tour.

A fine balance, of course, meeting the financial needs and establishing ‘normality’ versus the tour party welfare and what may be considered reasonable.

At what point does one draw a line in the sand and state ‘this is now our reality, and we have to accept that’, at least in the foreseeable future?

Certainly, the lack of income otherwise will be unpalatable, whole situation kind of makes you think that maybe, just throwing it out there, a global type of international season or some such may prove useful in the current climate moving forward?

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Wonder if World Rugby has considered this?

Harry
These Pandemic Pumas and bio-bubbled ‘Boks are like old-school astronauts. Going to Mars. And Queensland.

Small wonder Pablo and the Boyz wanted a different massage. It’s a weird existence.

South Africa has the No.1 ranking (even if it has a Wallaby-shaped asterisk). So, they cannot just field an experimental team with only France, Ireland, and UK-based or URC-playing players to beat the red list.

Although that would be a fun team. Johan Goosen, Akker van der Merwe, Johan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Stephan Lewies, Tyrone Green, Kobus Wiese, Dillyn Leyds and others could get a look.

But the integrity of the game and the honour of the jersey require the best and most aligned DNA be on the field, which means the longest slog must continue. Maybe they can base in Jersey to skip the quarantine?

Personally, I don’t think the EOYT is wise. I’d declare it all experimental, play the locals, and even use an Irish-based water boy (Johan van Graan, of Munster) linked to Rassie’s Zoom.

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Geoff
There are good arguments both ways. All of the national unions have been battered by COVID and need cash.

Players are professional, this is what they do, and they should feel privileged that, in a world when many others have had their health and livelihoods severely impacted, they are able to do what they love and what feeds their families.

On the other hand, players and officials are professional, but they are human too. Many have young children they have been isolated from, and no matter how mean and strong, bubble life and multiple quarantining can mess with anyone’s head.

Let the games go on, but if any player taps out for a spell at home, let them go with everyone’s blessing.

Brett
It’s really hard to know what the players have had to endure over the last few seasons, and almost impossible to know how it’s affected their mental capacity.

Back in my previous life, before the switch into sports media, I worked on a project that meant I had to travel fairly regularly, and often for a week or two at a time. Now, I’m not for a minute going to liken my situation back then to what the players are going through now, but I can tell you that after 18 months of this (and despite a very healthy frequent flyer balance) the novelty had certainly worn off.

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And I could go to restaurants and the pub each night!

So, I can absolutely believe that the idea of another month in hotels, no matter how well they might be paid, might be too much for some of these guys.

The idea of hotel-bus-training-bus-hotel-bus-stadium-play-bus-hotel having already done that for large chunks of the last two seasons, and for the sake of a couple of end-of-season internationals of no overly great consequence could easily be too much for some guys this close to Christmas.

Rieko Ioane

Is it reasonable to ask players to endure another bubble? (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

I can certainly believe it, and I reckon the national unions could, too. I hope the games are all played, but I won’t be surprised if some touring squads are missing a few significant players.

Nobes
The reality is that the Pumas are the team with the most experience in bubbles, and anyway, they make mistakes like the one at Byron Bay.

That experience seems to me to be counter-productive since spending so much time away from home, remember that most of them play in teams from the northern hemisphere and have been playing non-stop for the last two years. Now they are back to their teams where it will depend on them to give a rest or not.

Argentina does not have a relevant professional tournament and the difference between the local amateur tournament and the professional one is too great to feed with new players from such a tournament and give a break to those who have been playing non-stop.

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A complex scenario for Mario Ledesma, especially after the worst participation since the beginning of The Rugby Championship with the inclusion of Los Pumas. Not only were the results bad, the game deployed or not deployed raises the alarms loudly.

Question 2: And what’s your tour prediction for your team? How many wins, and what games are you most worried about?

Digger
I will say four from five for the All Blacks here, and I think it will be the French that are likely to topple us.

I expect the Irish to be fired up and really come at us after the disappointing World Cup quarter-final, and with only six days between Dublin and Paris, it will be very hard work indeed for the All Blacks to get through five games unscathed.

Wales are the reigning Six Nations champs, of course, and should not be taken lightly by any stretch, but my gut feel suggest games four and five will be the biggest hurdles for the All Blacks up north.

Scott Barrett makes a break

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Harry
South Africa plays Wales, Scotland, and England. England, we will take, as they are the Lions Lite. Scotland will lose bravely and entertainingly.

It’s Wales I worry about. They are the Australia of the North. And our boys tend to start slowly. Look heavy. As criticism mounts, they get angry.

And win. So, 2-1 is my tip.

Geoff
For the All Blacks, five from five will be considered a win, four wins and a tight loss to France will be considered a disappointment, and anything less, a disaster.

The French Test shapes up as a ripper, a precursor to the 2023 Rugby World Cup opener. Realistically, and with no disrespect meant to Ireland and Wales, here is the tour, wrapped up in this one match.

For the Wallabies, rising expectations now mean that three wins from four is a bare pass mark. But as always, fans will take three losses, as long as that single win is against England.

Twickenham won’t be the same this time, without Michael Cheika doing his ‘nana in the coaches’ seat, but we can still rely on Eddie to roll out the gamesmanship. As they say in the business, ‘must see TV’!

Brett
The ever dilemma of the Wallabies fan at the moment: not wanting to get too far ahead, but still instinctively thinking about the last four games of the year and what the overall record for 2021 could look like.

The Wallabies face Japan in Oita on October 23, and then on consecutive weekends from November 8, it’s Scotland, England, and Wales. That’s tenth in the world rankings, followed by seventh, fourth, and ninth, for those playing along at home.

All four games will be a test of the Wallabies in their own right, but there’s no question the England match at Twickers is the big-ticket item. If the Wallabies could get there with two wins under their belt, then they’ll be in a really good place to challenge Eddie Jones’ men, and there might not be a better time to be taking on England in recent years.

An undefeated tour would be fantastic, but I keep thinking that 3-1 might be what they come back with.

And it might not be England the Wallabies lose to; the Six Nations champion Wales side have always posed a challenge for the Wallabies, despite Australia’s strong record in Cardiff, and will no doubt be looking to repeat their 2018 win, which broke the Wallabies’ 13-game stranglehold at the Millennium.

And, of course, we certainly can’t underestimate the Scots for pure nuisance value.

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Nobes
The Pumas will face France in the first place with whom there has always been a very special duel with alternative results. The French team has been playing in a very good way and at home this time they have the advantage. Most of Los Pumas players play in that country and they already know them very well.

In second place, the Argentine team faces Italy, which is a country that has been beaten regularly and it is the November match that cannot be lost. High pressure match for the Italian team already smelling blood.

Finally, Los Pumas will visit Ireland where they have never won, the team has not given any indication of how to feed a different result.

OVER TO YOU: Are the ‘Boks and Pumas’ concerns about another set of bio-bubble fair enough?

And what’s your Spring Tour prediction for your team?

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