The Springboks should skip Rugby Championship
DURBAN - As this annus horribilis for world rugby grinds to an end, there is growing reason for the Springboks to write off 2020 and focus all their energy and wisdom on the British & Irish Lions tour - and knowing Rassie Erasmus as I do, he will wholeheartedly concur.
Folks, sending a half-baked Bok team to do disinterested duty in a Rugby Championship to be held in a "bio-bubble" in Australia, and which is happening just for the sake of broadcasting revenue, makes little sense for the Springboks given that short-term financial gain in November would be more than offset in the long term if the brand takes a hammering.
The Boks are the champions of the world, their stakes have never been higher and all competitions around the world want a piece of Siya Kolisi’s men, so why allow the aura to be heavily eroded by inevitably heavy defeats? The series against the Lions, the biggest rugby event outside of the World Cup is perfectly set up so why ruin that by participating in a horribly flawed Rugby Championship?
I am not being defeatist, just realistic given that New Zealand have been playing for four months, and Australia for three, while South Africa's players have had just three weeks of contact training.
The playing field is just too uneven. It would be suicidal for the Springboks to play Test rugby in just six weeks time given how ring rusty they would be, and it would be irresponsible for SA Rugby to compromise the Bok brand if they can help it. To me, Sanzaar are clutching at straws in insisting that the Rugby Championship goes ahead. They have lost Super Rugby after New Zealand and Australia mid-lockdown announced their own selfish plans for the future, so the Rugby Championship is now a life raft for a governing body desperately trying to stay relevant.
But right now only hosts Australia are getting excited about it. Argentina, like SA has had no rugby since March, so the Pumas would be horribly unprepared for Test rugby; the Boks have only recently dusted off the tackle bags, making it utter folly to play the battle-hardened All Blacks in just over a month; and then the Kiwis themselves are suddenly not so keen after having lost the hosting rights to their arch rivals across the Tasman.
When New Zealand seemed certain to be the hosts, they were champing at the bit but after the Australians pulled a coup in the Sanzaar boardroom and stole the Rugby Championship, the Kiwis are now whining about the two months their players will be away from home.
I think the Rugby Championship in November will go ahead but it will be effectively diminished to an extended Bledisloe Cup, a two-horse race sans Argentina and SA.
Sanzaar’s announcement for the event suggested this: “We are very eager to see the Springboks return to play, but there are still some hurdles to clear ... ”
Damn right there are hurdles, and I don’t think SA Rugby has the desire to clear them.
SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux in welcoming the Rugby Championship, at the same time strongly hinting that there will be no Bok participation said: “SA Rugby cannot confirm participation while a ban on international sporting activity remains in place in South Africa, while there are other high performance and player wellness issues to consider.”
And, in late August, Roux stated that participation would ultimately be a “rugby decision” based on Erasmus' assessment on how prepared the Boks would be
Well you can guarantee Erasmus will never send the Boks to a competition that they have no hope of winning, and especially not when he has the much bigger fish of the Lions to fry.