It has been a testing year on the sporting front due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The year 2020 has tested every sportsman and sportswoman’ resolve on a personal, professional, psychological, emotional and physical level.
In 2020, we have witnessed adaptability levels never seen before or thought possible, experienced extraordinary deviations from the norm and accepted the “new norm”. It surely reminded us sportspeople what it means to be human and what is truly important in life.
Taking a journey down memory lane to relive a year that started with so much promise when the Eastern Cape Super 14 rugby competition kick-started the season with the top seven clubs of Eastern Province taking on their Border counterparts. It was widely thought this year’s competition was the best in years. Progress from EP turned the tables on home favourites Swallows of Border at a packed Buffalo City Stadium, beating their more fancied opponents 28-24 in a pulsating final.
With Super Rugby only halfway through, a countrywide lockdown was implemented by president Cyril Ramaphosa. This in turn prompted sporting bodies to make announcements. SA Rugby cancelled all school and youth rugby for the entire year. SA Rugby also cancelled all club rugby for 2020, until the situation changed, with strict regulations put in place. That alone sent shockwaves throughout the rugby fraternity.
The impact was severely felt by schoolboy rugby players. Spare a thought for those boys who would have played first team rugby. Their dreams and aspirations erased, with no Craven Week, Grant Khomo or Iqhawe Weeks to play. No SA Schools squads to be selected. SA Schools and first team rugby are the epitome of every schoolboy’s rugby career, but that was only a distant dream. The chances of being snapped up by big unions on a junior contract without playing any rugby was slim. Only the “lucky” ones were contracted by bigger unions, based on their previous year’s performances. In Komani, the Queen’s College duo of Sihlalo Benge and Liyema Mgwigwi were both among the fortunate ones to be signed up.
Club rugby players suffered most. Clubs being inactive meant no income from gate takings, with corporate sponsors also scarce due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. Players who depended on match fees and stipends from clubs felt the pinch heavily in their pockets. No match fees meant no groceries, no rent and their daily living became extremely difficult. Top competitions like the Gold Cup were cancelled. The traditional Easter tournaments were called off, leaving players without any rugby in 2020. The popular HPJOC10s was also cancelled.
The professional players contracted to the Border Rugby Union and EP felt the worst of the lockdown. With Border Rugby already under administration, things took a turn for the worse for players who were lingering without any income from these two unions.
SA Rugby announced that only the seven professional unions would return to play, in empty stadiums when the disease eased a little. These matches would be played under strict regulations, while New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby teams returned to play with full stadiums in their respective competitions. SA teams had to be content with Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup. The seven teams are Western Province, Sharks, Lions, Blue Bulls, Cheetahs, Griquas and Pumas. South African Super Rugby teams have also opted to move up north to join the Guinness PRO 14.
Ultimately Springboks withdrew from the Rugby Championship, citing lack of game time for the players and strict travel regulations in the country.
There were few positives, with Andy Ntsila joining the Cheetahs, Roelof Smit going to the Lions and Yaw Penxe joining the Sharks.
However, the biggest shock is the four-year ban on former Springbok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi for using an illegal substance.