Column: All to gain for SA rugby

It’s time for SA rugby to step boldly into uncharted territory, writes CRAIG LEWIS in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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Be careful what you wish for. One can only wonder whether this old saying may come back to haunt New Zealand Rugby in years to come.

Yes, in some respects, there has been a bit of an overreaction to New Zealand’s statement of intent to enter into a new competition – which would be primarily regional – from 2021.

The decision is said to have been taken with an outlook that international visitors from the likes of South Africa and Argentina may still not be able to travel to New Zealand at the start of next year due to travel restrictions.

Yet, it was difficult to overlook a sentiment that NZR had put itself on a pedestal, and some of the chirps that followed from their Sanzaar ‘partners’ spoke volumes.

‘I see we are being deemed as having been kicked out of Super Rugby. If anything, New Zealand kicked themselves out of it,’ SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux commented before providing a reminder of the legally-binding Sanzaar agreements that were in place.

Meanwhile, in response to New Zealand’s suggestion they would gauge the waters to see whether or not Australian teams would be included, Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan was having none of it: ‘The expression of interest, I’m not interested in, and if they send it over I won’t open it.’

Shots fired, as the kids would say.

Amid all the changes, what SA Rugby has is an opportunity to watch, wait and plot for the future.

Right now the only priority is to find the means for a local competition to kick off. The hope remains for a revised and strengthened Currie Cup to finally offer some live action. For the first time in years, the domestic game will be the central focus, and it will allow for the governing body to assess how well received this might be.

Similarly to New Zealand’s highly-competitive Super Rugby Aotearoa, a rejuvenated Currie Cup filled with Springbok stars may just provide an overdue reminder that local is still lekker.

It also offers a lifeline for the lowly Griquas and Pumas, while there is talk that there should be consideration given to spreading South Africa’s resources to allow some players to be loaned out. Particularly if SA Rugby goes the route of hosting the Currie Cup in one central ‘bio bubble’ location, it would make the ‘sharing’ of fringe players far more feasible.

As Roux also pointed out, the big focus in most countries is to find workable solutions for rugby to be enjoyed in some shape or form this year before making any big decisions about the future. 

Next year beckons as a so-called ‘crossover’ period when local sides may make forays into the northern hemisphere or even possibly consider taking on New Zealand’s top performers in a cross-competition ‘playoff’ phase. For example, the Stormers and English club Saracens have announced plans for a ‘festival friendly’ to take place in 2021.

As it is, once this year of unprecedented challenges is out of the way, the No 1 priority for South African rugby at the start of next year will just be to take part in a competition that best prepares the players for the British & Irish Lions tour from July.

So, let’s successfully get to that point, and then go from there.

Change is the only real certainty at this point, but in years to come SA Rugby will want to ensure it can look back at 2020’s change of course as a blessing in disguise. There is a lot to lose, but there could also be everything to gain.

*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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Photo: Lara Di Ferdinando/Saracens

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