It increasingly looks essential for the Springboks to receive the go-ahead to participate in a revised ‘Rugby Championship’ in a single-venue ‘bubble’, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As reported by SARugbymag.co.za on Wednesday, it’s believed SA Rugby’s hopes for the start of a competitive local competition – dependent on government regulations – have been pushed back to an end-of-August target date.
The hope, once all approvals and safety protocols have been clarified and met, could be for as many as eight domestic teams to feature in a double-round format. The final would then be played in December.
For a start date of 29 August, it is important that players are able to conduct four weeks of conditioning training in July before heading into an additional four-week block of full-contact training when that becomes possible.
A local competition would present the opportunity for effectively a ‘full-strength’ Currie Cup that would include all the Springbok players, and that in itself is a highly compelling prospect for a South African rugby fanbase that has been deprived of any live local action since mid-March.
But what of Test action?
‘There are a number of options,’ SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux commented in a statement back on 8 June. ‘The postponed July Tests could still take place here in October; our northern-hemisphere tour in November has not been cancelled and the possibility of playing the Rugby Championship in a single venue in a “bubble” has also been workshopped.
‘But as those all remain unconfirmed and reliant on factors outside of our control,’ he added.
Indeed, that last line rings true. As the pandemic continues to escalate in South Africa, so contingency planning and well-intentioned plans have to be revisited.
For example, it looks increasingly unlikely that touring teams would be able or willing to arrive in South Africa as early as October. In fact, that July Test ‘window’ appears to be closed for good.
All the while, New Zealand and Australia are well under way with their domestic competitions, and based on geographics and each country’s success in quelling the coronavirus, it’s no surprise to see conversations shifting to the possibility of Trans-Tasman competition.
Speaking to this point, it was reported on Thursday that certain Bledisloe Cup dates may have been accidentally leaked online, with broadcast partner Sky Sport said to have released a since-deleted tweet promoting upcoming rugby on the channel. That included four apparent dates for Tests between the All Blacks and Wallabies on 10 and 17 October, and 1 and 8 November.
None of it has been confirmed, but it was speculated that the sides would play two games in New Zealand, before a 15-day gap for a two-week quarantine period as they relocate to Australia for the remaining games.
How, or even if, South Africa – not to mention Argentina – fit in, is still unclear.
Hopes for a ‘bio-bubble’ in Australia seem to be key for the Springboks to go through a necessary period of safety checks and ‘quarantine’ before possibly taking part in a shortened Rugby Championship tournament – with Perth reportedly identified as a possible host city.
The opportunity to lock down in a ‘bubble’ after withdrawing a select Springbok group of players from an SA competition does appear to be the only likelihood for the world champs to get back into action sooner rather than later.
It all adds to an extremely challenging time for SA and Springbok rugby as they search to find ways to ensure they aren’t left behind.
Photo: Marty Melville/AFP Photo