Dobson: Players split over SA rugby future

Stormers coach John Dobson says South African rugby would miss testing their style against New Zealand teams if they join a northern-hemisphere tournament, writes DYLAN JACK.

New Zealand Rugby’s plans to enter its five Vodacom Super Rugby sides into a new competition from 2021 – set to exclude any South African sides and not involve Argentina’s Jaguares – has seemingly thrown the Sanzaar alliance into doubt.

Questions have been raised about what route South African rugby will take next year, with most speculation suggesting a likely move to join northern-hemisphere competition.

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux has already outlined that New Zealand’s plans for a new competition from 2021 does not necessarily mean a disintegration of the Sanzaar partnership.

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Speaking to the media in a digital news conference on Thursday, Dobson said his own conversations with senior players have revealed differing opinions on a potential move to the north.

‘I have been having one-on-ones with the players for the last three days off the field and they seem to be quite split themselves,’ Dobson said. ‘Speaking to a senior Springbok, he said for too many years we have been chasing New Zealand, trying to play their rugby and that actually the northern hemisphere would suit us. Another Bok told me he liked playing New Zealand teams because we know we are testing ourselves against the best.

‘There might be a bit of opportunism to use the travel restrictions to throw Super Rugby out, being used by New Zealand and Australia. But it is a reality for 2021. Personally, it would be sad to see it go. I think our players like it.’

One of the major concerns with leaving Super Rugby is that South Africa could miss out on consistently testing their own style against that of the innovative New Zealand teams, Dobson explained.

‘They can punish you so hard, so quickly, if you aren’t on top of your game. In the northern hemisphere, you can grind it out. All of us are probably following after New Zealand. So it is up to us as coaches to be disciplined enough to learn. The change in the breakdown is staggering in their domestic competition and it is going to change how we coach the breakdown. If we are not playing, we have to be disciplined enough to learn because they are ahead in terms of that stuff.

‘It is one thing watching videos and another knowing you have to play them on Saturday. That is probably an element that we could be missing out on because I think you have to be on the sharp end of rugby the whole time. The challenge for us, as one Springbok said, is that we don’t necessarily want to chase New Zealand’s style of rugby but we want to play them with our style. We will miss out on that.’

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Dobson added that he is concerned over how SA Rugby is going to constructively fill the time until the British & Irish Lions tour in August next year, outlining that another domestic tournament could be both physically and mentally draining for the players.

‘What worries me – and I am very open to the idea of going north – what happens to us until August and September next year, until we play the Lions? Is that going to be another domestic competition like we just played this year?

‘That’s going to be a big challenge. Then you are going to get into the area of player welfare. We have seen these intense domestic competitions are fatiguing. My main concern is that hypothetically we play until December and could go into pro rugby in August, but what are we going to do until the Lions tour? Are we going to do another domestic competition and what would it look like after we have just done one this year? How meaningful is that competition or is it just filling time?’

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Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

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