Domestic rugby in distress as corona strikes in South Africa

Much to the distress of rugby fans in South Africa, their already diminished pleasure of following the Super Rugby Unlocked competition is being threatened by a renewed outbreak of the dreaded corona virus. – Derek Alberts

By Derek Alberts

The decision to sideline the Springboks from the Rugby Championship competition and forfeit their crown was vindicated, but not in a manner the South Africa Rugby Union would have wanted. In the end, the decision to cancel South Africa’s participation was wrought by the draconian regulations and onerous protocols around the corona pandemic. 

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There were other complications too, like shielding the under-prepared Springboks from being hunted down mercilessly by teams with a point to prove, particularly New Zealand, and Australia smelling the blood of a weakened prey. Problems with the Byzantine travel restrictions faced by the Boks playing in the UK and Europe further complicated things.

But the primary concern was the coronavirus, in one guise or another, a justification Rugby Australia found hard to swallow. While the All Blacks had resigned themselves to a diminished tournament, Argentina’s call to run the gauntlet, and encamp in Australia, cast doubt on South Africa’s decision.

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Then the dreaded news broke late last week that four Lions players had tested positive for the virus. The outbreak may well be part of the so-called “second wave” and the antecedent implications, but the rugby ruling was decisive and brutal — the cancellation of the Super Rugby Unlocked third round tie between the Lions and the Cheetahs.

How the outbreak will impact on domestic rugby in the immediate future is not clear, but the reserved comments from the administration suggests it favours pragmatic approach.  Whether the measures, including the cancellation of matches in the event of positive tests, will help slow the spread of the pandemic remains to be seen.

Not much is known about the outbreak at this stage, but Stormers coach John Dobson did say that prop Steven Kitshoff and hooker Scarra Ntubeni were in quarantine about the match against the Lions the previous week.

Be it as it may, the pesky virus is as welcome as a malarial mosquito in the tropics to rugby lovers and indeed the entire ecosystem of the sport. Just as the opprobrium settled and fans resigned themselves to the country’s top seven teams slugging it out on the field, the game is thrown into more upheaval at a time when pent-up fans can do with the distraction.

At least they’re spared the ignominy of a Bok team being dismembered, if the action featuring the best local talent on offer is compared to what the All Blacks and Wallabies are dishing up.

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