Cape Town — It would be a “sad day for rugby” if the Springboks were to leave the Rugby Championship and join the Six Nations, but even if they do, there should still be annual Tests against the All Blacks.
That was the view of former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick on Wednesday, as rumours continue to linger around the possibility of the world champions going north in future.
The Boks are locked into the Rugby Championship until 2025, but they have been linked with a spot in the Six Nations after that — either replacing perennial strugglers Italy, or expanding the tournament to seven teams.
But Fitzpatrick is not in favour of that. The ex-All Black hooker and skipper spoke at an online press conference ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards — where he is the chairman of the Laureus Academy — which will take place virtually in April, having last been held physically in Berlin in 2020.
“I think it would be a sad day for rugby. There’s a lot of talk about it, in New Zealand and up here (UK). But I think there’s a bigger question in terms of what competitions do we want?” Fitzpatrick said from Llanelli in Wales.
“The Six Nations is arguably the best competition in world rugby at the moment, outside of the World Cup. I think we’ve seen that in the first three rounds that it’s compelling viewing. Why look at something and adding something to it when it’s not broken, without question?
“I don’t personally like having a southern-hemisphere team in the Six Nations, because the history of the competition is northern hemisphere, basically. That’s not a great reason not to change it! But I just like the Six Nations as it is.
“In terms of the southern hemisphere, it will be devastating to the Championship if we lost South Africa out of that competition. So, no, I would not like seeing that happen (the Boks joining the Six Nations).”
Asked by Independent Media whether, if the Boks’ hand was forced somewhat and they ended up in the Six Nations, he would still want to see the South Africans face the Kiwis every year, Fitzpatrick responded: “Without question! For the All Blacks and for the South Africans, if I can speak for them, personally it’s one of our great games.
“When the game went professional in 1996, everyone was saying we will lose that special factor between the Springboks and All Blacks because we are playing so often.
“I don’t think that’s changed at all. We are still hugely in love with playing each other, so that will continue. And I go back to what are good products? The All Blacks and the South Africans are great products, and if private equity are doing anything, they want good products.
“That’s hopefully what they will develop, to make sure that we have a product that people are going to want to consume.”
Fitzpatrick added that the Laureus Academy had completed voting for their awards, but that he was not aware of the winners.
Formula One world champion Max Verstappen and controversial tennis star Novak Djokovic are among the Sportsman of the Year nominees, with Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah one of the favourites for the Sportswoman of the Year award.
“We are absolutely thrilled. We are disappointed that we aren’t having a live awards — we are having a virtual awards in April. All the voting has been done by the Academy, and like you, we don’t know who’s won!” Fitzpatrick said.
“But we are ready to go. We found with the virtual awards last year how we attracted another market, how we tapped into another audience, and how the winners could interact with the audience a lot better, so we are still trying to make the most of that.
“The Sport For Good foundation is such a big part of what we do at Laureus, and we try to get that message out, that sport has the power to change the world. And through our award winners, they are more than happy to support the 250 charities globally that we support.”