The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
So there’ll be no Test rugby for the World Champions in 2020. The decision by SA Rugby to pull out of the Rugby Championship in Australia was inevitable, given the complications caused by Covid-19 protocols and Springbok management’s concerns over player fitness. The financial considerations of pulling out would have weighed heavily against the health and safety issues, but in the end SA Rugby has opted to prioritise player welfare. The news comes as a bombshell because SANZAAR and Rugby Australia were expecting SA Rugby to favour the financial considerations, especially after the home-based players had experienced some game time and the fact that SA Rugby was experiencing severe financial pressures. Australian media report that SA Rugby could lose R200 million by not taking part. It’s not just the rugby administrations of New Zealand, Australia and Argentina that will be left fuming but also the broadcasters who now will surely now refuse to pay full fee for the broadcast rights. The Springbok withdrawal could also signal the end of SA Rugby’s relationship with SANZAAR. For the past few months, the speculation has grown that SA Rugby is keen to establish relationships in Europe. It’s not clear what SANZAAR will do to plug the gap left by the Springboks. There have been suggestions that a Barbarians team or Australia A side could be included. The next time the Springboks will be in action is against the British and Irish Lions next year. – David O’Sullivan
The Springboks are out of the Rugby Championship
SA Rugby has reluctantly been forced to withdraw the Springboks from the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
The on-giong complications related to the Covid-19 pandemic and concerns about seriously jeopardising player welfare, made it impossible to commit to SANZAAR that South Africa would be able to compete.
The South African-based portion of what was a 46-player squad was scheduled to fly from Johannesburg on Sunday. However, government regulations as currently drafted meant it was unclear whether the team would legally be able to depart.
In addition, mounting concerns relating to player welfare, were a major concern.
‘With time essentially having run out, it left us with no option,’ said Jurie Roux, SA Rugby CEO.
‘This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners but the on-going impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare.’
‘SANZAAR and Rugby Australia have bent over backwards to make the tournament happen and it would have been unfair on them, their partners and state government to delay a decision any longer.’
Roux said that the local challenges were compounded by the fact that the 24 overseas based players, who had been identified for potential selection (depending on Covid-19 status) and for whom visas had been applied, were based with European or Japanese clubs.
‘Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories,’ he said.
‘It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia.
‘We understand that public safety concerns come first and there’s no way that we could expect short cuts to be found to get them out of their host countries and into the Springbok bubble.’
‘But the impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to being able to compete.’
SA Rugby consulted with MyPlayers – the players’ representative body – who supported the decision.
Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby, said that his department had planned for every scenario.
‘We worked out that the players needed a minimum of 400 minutes of game time before they could be ready for a Test match,’ said Erasmus.
‘The overseas-based players had started playing before us and they would have been getting close to that time by 7 November.’
‘But many of those have completed their programmes or have had Covid outbreaks which has interrupted the planning. The Japanese based players haven’t played any rugby at all, while the home-based players would be well short of 400 minutes by the time of kick off.’
SA-based players played their first competitive matches at the weekend, 29 weeks after their last competitive match in Vodacom Super Rugby. In contrast New Zealand’s and Australia’s players contested a Test match on Saturday, 17 weeks and 14 weeks respectively after they resumed competitive rugby.
Roux said: ‘It has been an extremely challenging year and what started out as a two-week lockdown evolved into a global crisis, one of whose side effects has been to decimate our rugby calendar.’
‘It seems impossible that the Springboks won’t play a Test match in 2020, but public health and safety have been the primary concern and we have been collateral damage like so many businesses.’
‘All we can do now is enjoy our domestic competitions and find ways to be ready for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions in 2021.’
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