OPINION: Springbok trials better bet than Rainbow Cup SA as we’ve just had enough of local derbies
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CAPE TOWN – Oh no, not again… That seemed to be the refrain of many local fans on social media on Wednesday after the South African Rugby Union announced a change to the Rainbow Cup format, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The fact that the four South African teams are unable to play in Europe in May because of the lack of formal approvals to enter the United Kingdom and Ireland is out of the hands of SA Rugby and PRO14 Rugby, as that gets determined at government level.
It is commendable that “multiple options”, including the Middle East and other European regions, were explored as possible bases for the SA sides, but things just did not work out.
But now the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions have to play each other once more on a home and away basis… So, could something else have been created as an alternative?
To be frank, we’ve just had enough of local derbies. First it was the Super Rugby Unlocked, which wasn’t the best action we’ve ever seen, although Jake White and the Bulls didn’t mind as they walked off with the trophy.
Things went pear-shaped after that, as the Currie Cup was played in the heart of summer, and a kick-fest mercifully ended on January 30 at Loftus Versfeld, with the Bulls outlasting the Sharks in extra time.
I would have preferred to see some sort of Springbok trials being played over the coming months ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour (where the fixture list may also change in the coming weeks due to Covid-19 protocols).
How about a five-match series of the Probables against the Possibles? Whichever first-choice Boks from the 2019 World Cup triumph who are in South Africa – like Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe – could’ve faced the other in-form players from the last few months.
There would be no place to hide for the incumbents, and new Bok coach Jacques Nienaber would be able to gauge exactly how good some of the fresh faces, such as Sharks scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, would fare against more experienced campaigners like Ivan van Zyl or Embrose Papier in contesting for a Bok spot.
I am positive that the local rugby public would have enjoyed that more than the humdrum of the franchises against each other.
Unfortunately, it appears as if Saru were left with little option but to go the Rainbow Cup SA route.
It is understood that broadcast deals were already in place for the initial Rainbow Cup tournament that was supposed to start on Friday at the Cape Town Stadium between the Stormers and Sharks.
Now that SA Rugby are partners with the PRO Rugby organisation, the four franchises had to play in some sort of competition, as that is what was offered to the broadcasters.
One would hope that president Mark Alexander and chief executive Jurie Roux were able to ensure that most, if not all, monies due to SA Rugby would have been secured by opting for this format, as local rugby already had to take a collective R1.2 billion cut last year due to the effects of Covid-19 – with the Springboks unable to play a single game.
Having to weigh up the commercial aspects against the quality of the rugby competition would have been a hard call to make, but it is one that SA Rugby have to live with in the short term.
The Rainbow Cup SA is all about getting the Boks ready for the Lions, so let’s hope that we get the ‘real deal’ of the PRO16, most likely in October, to see our local teams up against the likes of Leinster and Munster.
Who knows, maybe there’ll even be spectators allowed in SA stadiums by then…