DURBAN – The decision to withdraw the Springboks from the Rugby Championship is a world champion decision by governing body SA Rugby, and it means South African rugby will be in rude health when the British and Irish Lions visit next July.
Let’s be honest the Boks were never going to go to the Rugby Championship when they were not adequately prepared to play an opposition that was on another level to the Boks, so well done to Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus for protecting his players.
The truth is that if Rassie felt the Boks were able to compete on a level playing field with the opposition, he would have sent the Boks to Australia.
But he knows that the South African-based players are significantly off the conditioning levels that the All Blacks and Wallabies displayed in last week’s Bledisloe Cup opener in Wellington, and will again exhibit in tomorrow’s second clash between the Antipodean rivals.
The Boks were supposed to play Argentina on November 7, with 46 players on duty in Australia, so the fact that those players will instead play in Super Rugby Unlocked is a massive boost for the domestic game.
It means a power-packed domestic season for South Africa not seen since the days of isolation, and it means that Erasmus and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber have time and opportunity to prepare the Boks for the British and Irish Lions tour next year.
A Lions tour to South Africa happens every 12 years and is the biggest rugby event outside of a World Cup, and that quite rightly is the focus of SA Rugby. The decision to take the Boks out of a Rugby Championship, where they probably would have been beaten heavily – given their lack of preparation compared to that of the opposition – means that the Lions tour has not been compromised.
Well done to SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux for taking the “rugby decision” he always said he would take according to what Erasmus felt was right for the Boks.
Roux said: “The local challenges were compounded by the fact that the 24 overseas-based players, who had been identified for potential selection (depending on Covid-19 status) and for whom visas had been applied, were based with European or Japanese clubs. Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories. It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia.
“We understand that public safety concerns come first and there’s no way that we could expect short cuts to be found to get them out of their host countries and into the Springbok bubble. But the impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to being able to compete.”