The Springboks are in a predicament – whether to play in the “Eight Nations” tournament or the Rugby Championship.
It appeared all set that the Boks would participate in the Rugby Championship in New Zealand later this year, as was widely reported by Sanzaar and SA Rugby. This flagship tournament, that includes South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, is set to take place from November 7 to December 12.
This was until Bernard Laporte, the French Rugby Federation president, threw a spanner in the works by confirming that the Six Nations were in advanced talks with SA Rugby about the Boks joining an eight-team, European-based tournament scheduled to take place from November 14 to December 5. This decision follows the withdrawal of Japan from the tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are several permutations to consider. Firstly, New Zealand have made it perfectly clear that they will embark on their own Super Rugby competition from 2021 that will exclude South Africa. That was followed by Rugby Australia’s two proposals of a fully-fledged trans-Tasman Super Rugby tournament with New Zealand and a Pacific Island nation or go on their own if not all their franchises are accommodated in the trans-Tasman competition.
SA Rugby have recently announced an expanded Currie Cup competition that will include the Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Bulls, Griquas, Cheetahs and Pumas to salvage some much-needed rugby for 2020. SA Rugby have also indicated they intend to join the Guinness Pro 16, which is a clear indication that the end of Super Rugby is in sight.
South Africa’s domestic tournament is expected to kick off on the weekend of September 25 or the first weekend in October. If that is the case, it would allow the locally-based Boks to play in four rounds of matches before leaving for New Zealand where they are expected to go into quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
The Eight Nations will kick off a week later than the Rugby Championship, which will be an advantage to the local Boks, as they will play a further week in the domestic competition which could prove crucial to get them match fit and battle-ready for the Test matches.
If SA Rugby decides to play in the Eight Nations, South Africa will be in Pool 2 and face France, Scotland and Italy. Pool 1 will be contested by England, Wales, Ireland and Fiji. The top team in each pool will compete in the final at Twickenham on December 5, with the other teams also playing a fourth match.
Playing ‘up North’ will be of greater advantage for the Springboks, considering that most of their overseas-based players are in Europe. The Boks based in England have been active in the Premiership since mid-August and those playing in France are set to return to action in the Top 14 this weekend. Travelling will be much easier for the locally-based Springboks to Europe than to travel across the globe to New Zealand, and they will easily link up with the European-based players.
New Zealand and Australia will also have a massive advantage, having played in the Super Rugby Aotearoa and the Super Rugby AU competition. The All Blacks would also have played Australia twice and will be battle-hardened. It will also be easier for the Boks to come up against teams like France, Scotland and Italy. The sensible thing is for SA Rugby to consider the option of the Eight Nations later this year.