Thu, 29 Oct 2020

SA Rugby and Sanzaar on Friday morning officially confirmed that the Springboks will not be participating in this year's Rugby Championship.

The decision had been expected since Wednesday when the regional body gave SA Rugby an "additional" 48 hours to provide final confirmation on their involvement.

"Sanzaar and Rugby Australia have bent over backwards to make The Rugby Championship happen and it would have been unfair on them and their partners and state government to delay a decision any longer," Jurie Roux, the federation's CEO, said in a statement.

"This is a hugely disappointing outcome for supporters and commercial partners but the ongoing impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations mean we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare, apart from other logistical challenges."

The national coaching staff, headed by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber, had previously stated that their players needed at least 400 to 500 minutes of game-time to realistically compete from a conditioning perspective.

Yet vital players such as Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe have barely played over 80 minutes since local rugby's restart.

MyPlayers, the local representative body for SA's professional players, supported SA Rugby's course of action.

"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."

The challenge of assembling a group of 24 overseas-based players was arguably the biggest given that they would've been crucial to the Boks' challenge because of their superior match-fitness.

"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."

Sanzaar, at least on paper, was philosophical about South Africa's withdrawal.

"Covid is just a gift that keeps on giving! Naturally, it is extremely disappointing that the Springboks, due to the continued complexities of operating in and around this Covid environment, cannot fully compete in the previously planned six-round Rugby Championship.

"That said this now presents us with a unique opportunity, in this our 25th year, to close off 2020 with a fully-fledged Tri-Nations Competition," said Andy Marinos, Sanzaar's CEO.

The decision will cost all four nations - SA, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina - millions in lost revenue, reportedly up to R300 million though it's understood that SA Rugby is banking on the financial windfall from next year's British and Irish Lions tour to compensate.

"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," said Roux.

Revised Rugby Championship draw:

31 October - Australia v New Zealand at Sydney's ANZ Stadium

7 November - Australia v New Zealand at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium

14 November - New Zealand v Argentina at Sydney's Bankwest Stadium

21 November - Australia v Argentina at Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium

28 November - Argentina v New Zealand at Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium

5 December - Argentina v Australia at Sydney's Bankwest Stadium

Source: News24

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