SA Rugby boasts sufficient domestic strength

SA Rugby should focus on consolidating its resources and ensuring a strengthened domestic competition remains the priority for the foreseeable future, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Ever since New Zealand reviewed Vodacom Super Rugby and announced its intention to keep matters internal or trans-Tasman, the backlash in South Africa has widely revolved around a reaction of ‘What about us?’

It’s understandable when one considers how accustomed we have become to Super Rugby on the annual calendar, but New Zealand have simply looked ahead to 2021 and assessed that cross-border competition remains unlikely.

There may be no way back for Super Rugby as we know it beyond 2021, but it remains almost impossible to know what the ever-changing rugby world will look like in the long term.

So, why not focus on the present?

All signs suggest SA Rugby will be looking at entering more sides into the PRO14, but on Tuesday, the tournament organisers released a statement to say a decision has already been made to focus solely on the 2020-21 season fixtures of European-based clubs.

The Kings have crumbled, while the Cheetahs have been ruled out of featuring in the revised PRO12 next season due to travel restrictions.

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So where does this leave all the South African sides?

Between now and the scheduled arrival of the British & Irish Lions next year, there appears to be no opening in Super Rugby or an expanded PRO tournament.

It surely means the only options will be for SA Rugby to focus solely on ensuring domestic action gets off the ground, and to hopefully enjoy the same sort of success New Zealand saw in a massively popular Aotearoa competition.

The good news in this regard is that South Africa boasts more than enough quality in player resources to ensure a strengthened local competition – perhaps to take place later this year and again in the first part of 2021 – will still provide a compelling product.

Sponsors, stakeholders and broadcasters desperately need live rugby to return in South Africa, and after nearly six months of inactivity, there is sure to be a massive appetite for derby battles once again. And hopefully, by 2021, fans will be able to return to the stadiums.

Perhaps when it comes to competition considerations for next year there could even be a thought process of including a side from Argentina, or even a Welwitschias outfit from Namibia.

Yet, these are out-of-the-box prospects that are hardly make or break. By allowing top players from the Kings to filter across to other unions, there is already likely to be a concentration of player resources (to do away with the Kings completely and focus on the restoration of a successful EP Rugby academy is a topic for another day).

Right now, though, SA Rugby does not have the resources in the Covid-19 climate to finance as many franchises as currently exist, but there is an opportunity to consolidate and ensure a strength-vs-strength domestic competition brings out the best in players.

Once live rugby is back, and there is at least the opportunity to adequately prepare players for the Lions series, then attention can turn to determining the best way forward and in which competition for 2022 onward.

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