31 Aug 2020
The Springboks should play in the ‘Eight Nations’ tournament instead of the Rugby Championship.
On Saturday, French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte said the Six Nations were in advanced discussions with SA Rugby about the Boks joining an eight-team European-based tournament scheduled to take place from 14 November to 5 December. This followed Japan’s decision to withdraw from the tournament due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the Boks did join the Eight Nations, they would reportedly be in Pool 2 with France, Scotland and Italy, with England, Wales, Ireland and Fiji in Pool 1. The top team in each pool will contest the final at Twickenham on 5 December, with the other teams also playing a fourth match.
Until Laporte's revelation, it appeared that if the Boks played at all in 2020, it would be in the Rugby Championship, which Sanzaar hopes will take place in New Zealand from 7 November to 12 December.
However, now that SA Rugby has another viable option, it would be better for the Boks to go north in November, rather than south, for several reasons.
South Africa's domestic tournament is expected to kick-off on the weekend of 25-27 September or 2-4 October.
Let’s assume it’s the latter. That would allow the locally-based Boks to play in four rounds of domestic matches before leaving for New Zealand, considering they would go into quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
Playing in the Eight Nations tournament, which will start a week later than the Rugby Championship, would allow the locally-based Boks to take part in a fifth round of domestic matches. That could prove crucial in terms of getting them match-fit for Test rugby.
The Boks – whether they play in the Rugby Championship or Eight Nations – will rely heavily on their European-based players, as those in England have been playing in the Premiership since mid-August and those in France are set to return to Top 14 action this weekend. It would be far easier for them to join the Bok squad in Europe than travel halfway across the world to New Zealand.
Then there’s the fact that the All Blacks will be battle-hardened in November, having played high-intensity rugby since mid-June when Super Rugby Aotearoa began. By the time they face the Boks, the All Blacks will probably have played the Wallabies twice and be razor-sharp.
The undercooked Boks would therefore be at a massive disadvantage and two big defeats on New Zealand soil wouldn't be a surprise. However, it would still result in South Africa’s World Cup euphoria evaporating and new coach Jacques Nienaber put under pressure.
In the Eight Nations, the Boks would face easier opposition in France, Scotland and Italy, and if they did end up playing England, Wales or Ireland in the final, they would be in good shape to do so.
SA Rugby should do the sensible thing – let the Boks play in Europe later this year and then rejoin the Rugby Championship in 2021.
– Borchardt is the editorial director of RugbyRocks.com. Follow him on Twitter.