Simon Borchardt

Better for Boks to miss Rugby Championship?

It could be a blessing in disguise if the Springboks are unable to take part in this year’s Rugby Championship.

World Rugby last week announced its proposed temporary Test window for 2020, which would see the southern hemisphere showpiece played in full in New Zealand from 7 November to 12 December.

However, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber confirmed over the weekend that the world champions' participation is far from certain. He said for the SA-based Boks to be properly prepared for Test rugby, they would need to play at least six rounds of domestic matches beforehand.

SA Rugby was hoping to begin its domestic tournament (expected to be a home and away Currie Cup) on the last weekend of August or the first weekend of September, but understands that 12 September is now the most realistic date.

If the tournament hasn’t kicked off by then, and Bok players are unable to feature in at least six rounds of matches, Nienaber admitted ‘I don’t think we will be able to go’ to New Zealand.

This might actually be a good thing – even though we all want to see the Boks back on the field and the broadcasting revenue would be a godsend for SA Rugby – for several reasons.

Even if SA-based players do get six domestic outings, they won’t be nearly as sharp as their New Zealand and Australian counterparts, who are well into their domestic Super Rugby campaigns.

Nienaber may have little choice but to select a Bok team made up mostly of players from European-based clubs. The English Premiership is set to resume on 15 August and the Pro14 (without the two SA teams) a week later, while the new French Top 14 season will kick off on 5 September, which will give the Boks in Europe a crucial head-start on local players.

SA Rugby would also need to find a way for players contracted to Japanese clubs to get game time for local franchises, while covering the players' injury insurance costs.

The Boks will have to spend eight weeks away from their families – including a quarantine period when they arrive in New Zealand and another when they return to South Africa or Europe – which Nienaber says will be ‘very tough mentally’.

The coach also pointed out that SA Rugby still needs to find out if the Boks would have access to gyms and be able to practice while in quarantine in New Zealand.

Then there’s the fact that the Boks would be playing all of their Rugby Championship matches in New Zealand and up against match-hardened, better prepared All Blacks and Wallabies teams with a point to prove after last year’s World Cup.

A couple of big defeats for the disadvantaged Boks could inflict significant psychological damage on them ahead of next year’s British & Irish Lions series and totally change the (still buoyant) mood in South African rugby after last year’s World Cup win.

It may be better for the Boks to write off 2020 and start again in 2021, with SA-based Boks playing a full part in the Currie Cup and any State of Origin/North-South series to follow.

– Borchardt is the editorial director of Follow him on Twitter.

Photo: Franck Robichon/EPA