There is anxiety in rugby circles in New Zealand and Australia with SA Rugby seemingly set to withdraw the defending champion Springboks from the SANZAAR event slated to start at the end of the month.
SA Rugby have been involved in an intense back and forth with stakeholders but appear set to put player welfare ahead of financial gain and pull the plug on the defence of the Rugby Championship won in the abbreviated 2019 season.
The withdrawal of the Springboks throws the financial viability of the tournament into question, and the Bledisloe Cup Test certainly wouldn’t have helped build any hype for a tournament that is set to be a two-horse race.
SA Rugby had tried to get SANZAAR to agree to allow the Springboks to arrive in Australia later, but it seems that governments were unwilling to budge on quarantine periods.
Despite having completed Super Rugby replacement competitions already Australia and New Zealand did not look much better than the South African group that took part in the Springbok Showdown and it would be fair to say that the withdrawal of the world champions will take a lot of shine off the Rugby Championship.
According to a report in the New Zealand Herald: “The Springboks will now not travel to Australia to join the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas for the scheduled four nations event due to be hosted in Sydney and Brisbane from 31 October to 5 December.”
Protecting the players and the brand
While the decision has been branded a choice between player welfare and financial stability, it could also be argued that SA Rugby are protecting the brand that is Springbok Rugby.
Relative to Australia and New Zealand the Springboks are woefully underprepared for the tournament through no fault of SA Rugby or the team management.
SA Rugby were locked in protracted discussions with government concerning the restart of professional rugby and missed the cut-off point to get the six rounds of domestic rugby Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber had identified as the bare minimum preparation for the Rugby Championship earlier this year.
On top of that, the Boks have watched the All Blacks and Wallabies take each other on in Bledisloe Cup action giving the antipodean rugby powers a considerable edge over the Springboks.
The withdrawal will hit SA Rugby in the pocket but will also impact their SANZAAR partners who face the prospect of having the tournament cut in half.
SA Rugby have until Friday to confirm the Springboks participation in the Rugby Championship.