European United Rugby Championship teams had a will but didn’t make a way
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Durban - The indecent haste with which the Welsh, Irish and Italians scuttled out of South Africa on Friday does not bode well for the health of the fledgling United Rugby Championship.
Relations between South African administrators and their counterparts in Europe have almost certainly soured given the frankly selfish behaviour of the Scarlets, Cardiff, Munster and Zebre when that unfortunate word Omicron was first mouthed on Thursday, causing the panicky UK government to immediately thrust SA back onto its travel red list, and the rest of Europe followed suit.
While nobody is blaming these franchises for wanting to remove themselves from potential harm's way, and also to get home before the Sunday morning deadline so that they would not have to isolate for 10 days, the issue is that SA rugby was prepared to bend over backwards to have the games played and then get the four teams home on a special charter fight which would have had them tucked up at home in Llanelli, Cardiff and Cork.
But there were no takers ... It was a case of “I'm alright, Jack” and off they scampered. There was no negotiation, only unilateral action to look after themselves and certainly not the interests of a brand new competition that has only had a SA presence since September.
What will gall the main men at the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions is that they accepted gruelling four-match overseas tours at the beginning of the United Rugby Championship, having had no experience of the competition, but they sucked it up and off they went. And painful it was, with the four teams occupying positions 12 to 15 on the standings at the end of the first four rounds.
And this weekend the SA teams were all primed to play their first home games since Super Rugby in February last year, and were favoured to win them and gain precious log points.
Also, it was the first time fans would be allowed into stadiums, albeit just 2 000, but it would have been a major step forward towards the normalising of rugby.
Update:— Cardiff Rugby (@Cardiff_Rugby) November 28, 2021
Cardiff Rugby have been unable to depart South Africa following two positive cases of Covid-19, one of which is suspected to be the new variant Omicron.https://t.co/tjbzYNO8f6 pic.twitter.com/AiEUYC5FTn
Instead, the United Rugby Championship is in crisis and it has been reported that an emergency plan could be implemented this week to save the SA contingent, with the Sharks touted to play the Bulls on Friday and the Stormers to face the Lions on Saturday.
The idea is that the four SA franchises will bring forward the matches against each other which were scheduled for later in the competition and play for United Rugby Championship points.
The Sharks versus Bulls game is currently scheduled for 12 February, as is the Stormers-Lions game, but these games could now be played this weekend.
It has further been confirmed that the no-show by the Welsh, Irish and Italians did not go down well with local administrators, who feel the visitors could have made a better effort to play the games, especially because the SA teams did those extremely hard yards overseas in September and October.
The feeling is that the matches could have been played and the visitors could still have made it home before the travel restriction deadline, but with there being no will, there was no way.