CAPE TOWN – Director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus and Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber say there are a few logistical issues and player welfare concerns that are making it tough to confirm whether South Africa will participate in the Rugby Championship at this stage.
Sanzaar last week confirmed the schedule for the competition, which will be held in Australia over a truncated six-week period.
Unlike New Zealand and Australia, who have both completed local Super Rugby competitions, SA players only returned to the playing field at the weekend after six months without rugby and heavy training restrictions.
“There’s a few things to consider,” Nienaber said. “Firstly, there’s no green light from the government on international participation yet. Once that happens there are also other factors, those are the isolation period when we go to Australia. The restrictions aren’t as strict there as they are in New Zealand, but other stuff like the recovery modalities we will be allowed to use haven’t been spelt out yet.
“So, they’re still working on that with their government. The last thing is our availability of our overseas-based players. World Rugby has put out regulation nine – which allows them to play with us – but there has been a big push-back from the English clubs, and getting those players later will be problematic for us as it will have a massive influence on the isolation period.
“The other thing is we don’t just want to go participate, we want to perform, and our conditioning will have to be at a certain level to do that.”
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Erasmus elaborated on these concerns, explaining that the Premiership sides are reluctant to release their players.
“We of course desperately want to go and play, we want to play Springbok rugby, but it’s more the English clubs – who will at that stage be playing in the semi-finals and final (between October 10 and 14) – who haven’t cleared those players to be available for us yet, but the French clubs are aligned with us.
“Also, all your players have to arrive in Australia at the same time and you have to take a massive squad, so that makes it problematic, but it doesn’t mean we can’t overcome it. But if the overseas-based players only arrive in Australia two weeks after us, they’ll still be in quarantine by the time we’re playing our first game and they’ll be without physios and doctors, they will physically be on their own. So it’s a bit of a logistical problem, but we’ll work really hard to try and make this work.
“Lastly, the other thing is we have to get five or six games, or 500 minutes, into our players before it will be safe for them in terms of the injury risk. We’re busy investigating how we can best manage those things to make the Rugby Championship happen. We want to go, it’s just at stage we’re not yet sure how to make it happen.”
Meanwhile, Erasmus – the team commissioner for the Springbok Green team – confirmed that Frans Malherbe and wings Seabelo Senatla and Sergeal Petersen have been ruled out of Saturday’s Springbok Showdown due to injury.
Malherbe picked up a toe injury while in action for the Stormers in their 34-21 Super Fan Saturday win over the Lions. Ruan Dreyer will move into the starting line-up of the Gold squad, while Lions front-ranker Carlu Sadie will come in among the replacements.
In the Green squad, Senatla tweaked his hamstring early on in the Stormers’ run-out at Loftus. Malcolm Jaer will now start in his place, while former Junior Bok utility back Mnombo Zwelendaba, who is one of eight young guns in the Green team, will join the bench.
Petersen sustained his foot injury during training on Friday and will be replaced by Courtnall Skosan.
Blitzboks and Bulls speedster Kurt-Lee Arendse, who was massive for Jake White’s team at the weekend, was initially called up as a replacement for Senatla, but a decision was made to draft in Zwelendaba after the Blitzbok was unable to make his flight from Gauteng to Cape Town yesterday.