Coronavirus News Africa

The fear is real as SA edge closer to rugby wilderness

As South Africa faces the reality of a prolonged Covid-19 lockdown, it also appears more and more certain it shall be overlooked for a new trans-Tasman competition to replace Super Rugby.

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Calls are growing Down Under to begin urgent discussions regarding a replacement for Super Rugby going forward – one that doesn’t involve South Africa.

As figures suggest Australia and New Zealand are moving closer to life as normal following the coronavirus pandemic, talks are expected next week to provide more clarity on a potential rugby calendar – in Australasia and the surrounding Pacific Island nations at least.

The latest to join the chorus for Australasian and Oceania rugby-playing countries to go it alone comes from current Brumbies coach Dan McKellar who has backed calls for a drastic Super Rugby shake-up, saying a trans-Tasman competition would be a “great product”.

McKellar said a July return was “optimistic but realistic” and beyond that administrators must look at ways to cut costs and attract new investment.

According to the Stuff website, McKellar agreed cutting South African and Argentinian teams was one solution, admitting the thought of a trans-Tasman competition that included a Japanese presence excited him.

“Australia and New Zealand teams, Japan off the back of a Rugby World Cup, and the uniqueness that a team like the (Tokyo-based) Sunwolves bring.

“A trans-Tasman comp with an Asian and Pacific feel to it would be a great competition to be involved in and a good product; I think broadcasters would love to get behind it and support it and players would enjoy it as well.”

It’s a concept Rugby Australia are at least open to in the short term, especially after the resumption of trans-Tasman was travel flagged by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an option last week.

While a domestic league featuring the Western Force is the likely first step, McKellar said matches against New Zealand Super Rugby outfits would be ideal, while a Bledisloe Cup series could still be on the cards for later this year.

Key scheduled discussions between Wallaby pair Michael Hooper and Matt Toomua, and Waratahs hooker and Rugby Union Players Association president Damien Fitzpatrick, with their New Zealand counterparts next week should help that process.

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So where does that leave South Africa?

At the bottom of Africa with little to no confirmation of any rugby on the horizon.

Geographically-speaking alone, South Africa are in a perilous position as exorbitant travel costs are at the best of times draining on the coffers of unions.

And in the current world of the Covid-19 reality, why cross the Indian Ocean when you can just cross the Tasman?

It appears in 2020 that the absolute best-case scenario SA Rugby faces is that this year’s Currie Cup (if played) could be the most competitive in years as the Springboks play a full part in its duration.

And in 2021 it appears that an inter-SA Super Rugby Conference tournament is the only solution, perhaps with the Cheetahs and Kings thrown in if the next PRO14 season scheduled tentatively to kick off in August/September doesn’t go ahead.

SA Rugby in late April issued a troubling report detailing a plan to cut up to R1 billion from its budget this year alone to ensure the viability of the sport if and when life returns to ‘normal’.

Players are currently scrambling to secure overseas-based contracts in order to secure their futures – at lucrative exchange rates – before salaries and contracts are slashed for players unable to do so and who remain playing in the country.

This three-week period to effectively attract a bidder was negotiated by MyPlayers and the SA Rugby Industry.

Depending on who you speak to, the next few days until that 21-day grace period window closes could see a string of household names – 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks included – escape their current contracts and head abroad.

For some this represents the perfect opportunity for South African teams, and even the Springboks, to foster closer ties with Europe.

But who has a crystal ball to determine when those European countries so badly affected by Covid-19 (the UK, Italy and France among them), will be ready to play again?

And will they even want us with their PRO14 and European Rugby Champions Cup (tournaments for clubs) and Six Nations (for national teams) already bulging with as many – or more – teams than the already-oversized Super Rugby?

A rocky road lies ahead, that’s for certain.

– Compiled by Garrin Lambley

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