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By Derek Alberts
The unthinkable prospect of Rugby World Cup champions South Africa abandoning the Southern Hemisphere appears to be gaining traction, if media speculation is to be believed.
Reports suggesting that South Africa is likely to join a revamped eight-team Northern Hemisphere tournament at the end of this year, have caused considerable anxiety among fans of the oval-ball game.
Not only will the Springboks be lost to the Rugby Championships featuring old foes New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, but its four Super Rugby franchises – the Sharks, Stormers, Lion and Bulls – in all likelihood too will compete in an expanded PRO 14 tournament.
Conflicting statements by the rugby authorities have left the public, sponsors and players wallowing in confusion.
Most recently, SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos reportedly denied that South Africa would play in Europe and miss the Rugby Championship, a claim made in French media.
Quoting World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte, Le Progress reported that Japan had pulled out of the eight-team tournament due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, and that “advanced discussions” with South Africa were underway.
The eight-team competition will feature England, Wales, Ireland and Fiji in one pool, and Scotland, Italy and France in the other pool. Georgia was originally considered as a replacement for Japan, but that option appears to have died a natural death.
“The Japanese will not come to Europe. We are looking for a nation to replace them. We are in advanced talks with South Africa. It would be great to be able to face the Springboks, world champions in the title, but it’s not yet done,” Laporte said.
However, Marinos dismissed the reports and said New Zealand was scheduled to host the Rugby Championship in November and December.
The eight-team tournament is supposed to replace the usual November schedule for the Northern Hemisphere teams. It starts on November 15 – two weeks after the Six Nations competition ends – and culminates in a Twickenham final on December 6.
News of South Africa’s possible departure met with disbelief as the ramifications of such a move sunk in. Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall, for one, was adamant that without the Springboks, New Zealand Rugby could suffer.
“They are our oldest foe, and yes we have the Bledisloe Cup which is dear to our heart, but every time we get to play South Africa in The Rugby Championship, for whatever reason, there is just no better test match,” he said.
“It’s going to be a massive loss if they head off. It will be a massive blow for us having that calibre of players leave.”
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