The Wallabies started spring in fine fashion against the All Blacks. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
The Wallabies started spring in fine fashion against the All Blacks. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Rugby Championship in disarray

South Africa has withdrawn from the Rugby Championship to cut the number of tournament matches in half.

Tournament organiser Sanzaar and hosts Rugby Australia are expected to confirm the withdrawal of the world champion Springboks on Friday, which will reduce the competition from a 12 to six-test event and necessitate the need for bye weekends.

Sanzaar on Wednesday gave South Africa Rugby an additional 48 hours to reach a final verdict on the Springboks' participation after last-ditch attempts were made for the Boks to arrive in Australia three weeks later than originally planned.

In the end, despite having three to five matches prior to their tests in Australia, South Africa did not believe the Springboks had sufficient time to physically prepare for the tournament.

South Africa's decision to withdraw entirely is expected to be attributed to player welfare concerns and uncertainty surrounding government travel regulations amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, though the latter is believed to have been progressing positively.

The Springboks will now not travel to Australia to join the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas for the scheduled four nations event due to be hosted in Sydney and Brisbane from October 31 to December 5.

Without the Springboks, the Wallabies are scheduled to meet the All Blacks in Sydney and Brisbane on October 31 and November 7 following Sunday's Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park.

After that the Wallabies may have a bye week, before back-to-back contests against Argentina on November 21 and 28.

Player welfare is a genuine concern for South Africa with their domestic competition, Super Rugby Unlocked, only restarting on October 10.

The Springboks, therefore, always felt significantly disadvantaged compared to New Zealand and Australia's competitive domestic seasons and Bledisloe tests preparation.

The Wallabies recorded an impressive draw in Wellington. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
The Wallabies recorded an impressive draw in Wellington. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)


The Pumas are, however, expected to front for tests after playing two Australian state sides in warm up fixtures following quarantine.

South Africa are also thought to have found complications getting leading players out of Europe with the coronavirus re-emergence and the cost of underwriting club insurance heightening risk.

Ultimately, with the British and Irish Lions tour looming next year the Springboks were wary of damaging their world champion lure by travelling to Australia undercooked.

The Springboks could now go 20 months, from their World Cup triumph in Tokyo last November to next July, without playing an international fixture.

From a financial perspective South Africa is thought to be in a reasonable position, well backed by sponsors and broadcaster SuperSport, with the Lions windfall to try safeguard.

It's not yet known how the Boks' exit will affect the tournament's bottom line but the significant reduction in matches is likely to see all four nations take financial hits.

All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree suggested on Wednesday the Springboks would not make the trip to Australia for the start of the tournament.

"The disappointing thing was that they couldn't get their Currie Cup going quick enough," he said.

"The longer that got delayed, the harder it was always going to be for them to get match hardened, match ready. I guess that was one of the major contributing factors.

"They're the world champions as well. For them to come down here, if they don't feel like they're ready, they're not going to put that on the line.

"Hopefully we'll still get to see them, even if they don't make the start. I don't know what the decision will be around it, but they'll want to play - it's just when."

Earlier reports suggested the Boks could be replaced in the competition by a Barbarians outfit but the New Zealand Herald understands that is unlikely at this stage.

- New Zealand Herald


Originally published as Rugby Championship in disarray