The vacuum opened up by the pending cancellation of the Rainbow Cup should lead SA Rugby to an innovative new tournament, writes DYLAN JACK.
The distorted reality of organised, professional sports in a pandemic have once again hit South African shores.
Just over a week ago news emerged that the PRO14 Rainbow Cup was in jeopardy as the South African teams were told to suspend their visa applications.
The issue arose from the ‘away leg’ of the tournament with the original plan being that teams base themselves in the UK while facing sides from Wales, Ireland and Italy.
However, entering the first week of the Rainbow Cup with still no clarity over the overseas trip, it appears that time has been called on the tournament.
This leaves a massive gap in what was meant to be a crucial stage of preparing South Africa’s players – at least those who will be involved with the Springboks – for the upcoming British & Irish Lions series.
At least the good news in that respect is that most of the strongest Springbok lineup is based overseas and will have been able to get regular competitive minutes by the time the tour swings around in July.
Still, there is a very real and massive financial impact to consider. SA Rugby, the franchises, players and coaches all took a financial blow through 2020. Players, coaches and management had to take pay cuts of up to 43%, something they invariably could be looking at again due to the loss of income through television rights.
This leads to the mental impact on both players and coaching staff.
Sources have described the latest period of waiting as ‘incredibly frustrating’, ‘absolute chaos’ and ‘terrible times’ as a result of the lack of certainty. Those feelings of unease are only going to be heightened by the stress of taking another pay cut with no real clarity on the short-term future.
SA Rugby’s brains trust will have to come up with some sort of alternative to keep the players mentally fresh and motivated, if nothing else.
Interesting is that Stormers coach John Dobson said during a media conference on Tuesday that they were still preparing to play on Friday evening, even with everything still up in the air.
Another round of Currie Cup fixtures is unlikely to get anyone excited, given that the franchises have played each other in a similar format over three successive tournaments: Super Rugby Unlocked, the 2020 Currie Cup and the Preparation Series. Still, that would be better than no tournament at all.
Perhaps this is the time for real innovation. It certainly seems SA Rugby is leaning that way.
There is an innovative plan for SA teams…actually quite lekker, but can’t say more yet.
— Craig Ray (@craigray11) April 20, 2021
Why not have a province-of-origin series, where players represent the provinces they were born in or started their rugby careers in? Likewise, with club rugby in South Africa looking to restart, players could represent their local clubs in a ‘club-of-origin’ series.
This website has suggested a unique player-coach series, which would allow fans the right to vote on team selections and tactics. Although it sounds like a gimmick, it would allow fans a sense of ownership and responsibility for their teams. Plus, SA Rugby could make up for some of their financial losses by charging fans for that right to select the team lineup.
That would at least be a fresh take on what has become a stale, repetitive and rather meaningless series of domestic fixtures.
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images