Player welfare should take priority for Boks

It will be unsurprising to see the Boks have little option but to opt out of participation in the Rugby Championship, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Will they or won’t they go? It’s a question that has now persisted around the Springboks’ prospective defence of their Rugby Championship title for weeks on end.

An answer is finally expected in the next day or two, but it’s been a waiting game where care for player welfare should be the ultimate winner.

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Test rugby resumed this past Sunday after a Covid-enforced break of more than six months, with Australia and New Zealand ripping into action with a set of players clearly battle ready after both countries were able to complete their own domestic competitions in recent months.

By contrast, as South Africa’s Sanzaar ‘partners’ got stuck into a Bledisloe Cup battle, the local Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked competition had only just completed one round of action with some understandably rusty performances.

At the end of the day, it would be a massive – and surely unfair – ask of the nationally-considered players to now head to Australia and begin a fortnight of quarantine that would need to begin within the next week in order to be ready for the buildup to the scheduled 7 November Test against Argentina.

The Springboks would need to take an extended squad to Australia in order to ensure there is enough injury cover in all positions, which in itself could suddenly and seriously dilute the quality of the Unlocked competition.

Then there’s the logistics of gathering overseas-based players into camp, with the English clubs in particular having been said to be pushing back on the release of players.

There are also questions that persist around quarantine protocols and whether all the Springboks would be able to hunker down in the same hotel, while there are doubts whether they’d be able to train together during quarantine.

In terms of game time, there are a host of Springboks who are nowhere near the 400-plus minutes of play that the medical experts suggest is the ideal mark to mitigate injuries.

Just recently, Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White highlighted how the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Nizaam Carr had picked up niggling injuries in the Springbok Showdown, which were par for the course as players started to take contact again.

ALSO READ: ‘Not ideal preparation for Rugby Champs’

It’s also already been well documented how the Springboks will be without top World Cup winners such as Handre Pollard, RG Snyman and Lood de Jager, who have suffered serious injuries after returning to action overseas.

Beyond the dynamics of physical well-being to consider, there is of course the factor of mental welfare for players who would need to leave their families for two months, while also spending the first fortnight in hard quarantine before also having to isolate again when returning home.

Not to mention the fact the Springboks have suddenly been lumped with the rescheduled final Rugby Championship fixture against Argentina on 12 December.

It’s a lot to ask.

READ: Boks-Pumas to conclude Rugby Champs

The flip side of the coin (if you’ll excuse the pun) is of course the financial fallout of failing to participate in the Rugby Championship, which would see stakeholders unable to finally reap the full rewards of seeing the world champions return to action for the first time since their triumph in Japan.

Particularly in these commercially challenging times, this has understandably been a considerable factor fuelling plans for the Springboks to push on and participate.

Yet, there is talk that due to a new Covid-19-related collective agreement, SA Rugby would still earn a shared Rugby Championship broadcast income fee even if the Springboks are unable to play.

A final point would revolve around concerns of the Boks heading into the 2021 British & Irish Lions series without any Test rugby under the belt, but one would expect SA Rugby to find the means to welcome a touring team in the first half of next year.

USA head coach Gary Gold has said he’s already broached the possibility of playing a couple of games against the Boks ahead of the Lions tour.

All in all, surely player welfare – and sanity – should prevail.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis