In a snippet from our latest magazine, now on sale, JON CARDINELLI and SARAH MOCKFORD debate whether SA Rugby should head north.
YES – JON CARDINELLI, chief writer SA Rugby magazine
The Six Nations is rugby’s premier annual tournament. There is, however, reason to believe that the inclusion of another traditional powerhouse will strengthen the final product.
The Springboks are three-time world champions. They haven’t lost a home series against a northern-hemisphere side since the British & Irish Lions toured in 1997. Their overall record in the professional era indicates that they know how to prevail in challenging European conditions. It’s fair to say that the Boks’ inclusion would not dilute the championship, whether it is a six- or seven-team tournament.
SA Rugby took its first step into the northern hemisphere when it entered two of its franchises – the Cheetahs and Southern Kings – into an expanded Pro14 competition in 2017. It’s believed that more franchises will follow suit, and that we could well see mega-clashes such as Leinster versus the Bulls or Sharks in future.
Ultimately, South African rugby may find itself in a situation where the majority of its elite players are competing in the European tournaments – either for South African or European clubs – and working toward representing the Boks in the Seven Nations.
Recent rumours about South Africa’s move to the north has prompted questions about the future of rugby in the south. SA Rugby has always valued the Rugby Championship – and particularly the two clashes between the All Blacks and Boks. It may be easy to walk away from a Super Rugby tournament that’s lost its shine and is fraught with logistical and player-management challenges.
It won’t be so easy to turn away from an annual match-up against New Zealand that has commercial value and is deeply important to both sets of fans.
NO – SARAH MOCKFORD, Editor Rugby World magazine
There has long been talk of South Africa aligning with European competitions, switching the focus from hemispheres to time zones. We’ve already seen two South African franchises join the Pro14, but the Springboks in the Six (or, as it is rumoured to become, Seven) Nations? This throws up more problems than solutions.
For a start, how do you fit the extra matches into an already hideously congested calendar? The mooted change is to expand the championship rather than have the Boks replace, say, Italy, which means an extra six matches. That’s two additional weekends of three fixtures. Where do they go?
Some would say slot them into the fallow weeks we currently have, but you have to consider the travel implications too. South Africa may be in the same time zone as Europe but flying there is significantly different to the short-haul flights the Six Nations requires. And that’s before you bring altitude into the mix, depending where fixtures are scheduled.
Keep the fallow weeks and there’s the knock-on effect to the club game, with star players absent from yet more domestic fixtures.
And what about the fans? A trip to South Africa is a vastly different expense to a day trip between Cardiff and Dublin for example. How many supporters – the traditional lifeblood of this championship – will be able to afford to travel to watch their team face the Boks?
There’s only so much rugby players can play and supporters can support. The proposal is another example of possible financial gains being put ahead of player welfare – and that’s before you consider how South Africa cutting ties with their traditional southern hemisphere foes could impact the world game.