WELLINGTON, New Zealand (The Southern African Times) — Rugby Championship organisers SANZAAR have given World Cup champion South Africa an additional 48 hours to decide whether they will compete in the four-nation tournament in Australia from next month.
Australia, Argentina and New Zealand are locked in but the participation of the Springboks, the defending champions, has been in doubt because of their lack of domestic rugby.
The long-delayed start to South Africa’s domestic Currie Cup competition because of the coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns that the Springboks players will have played too little to be ready for test rugby.
The South African Rugby Union has delayed reaching a decision on whether their national team will travel to Australia in time for the tournament start, causing anxiety for the organizers. After a virtual meeting of national chief executives on Tuesday, SANZAAR agreed to give South Africa an extra 48 hours.
“The SANZAAR member unions have agreed to provide SA Rugby with an additional 48 hours to finalize its internal stakeholder discussions on participation,” SA Rugby said in a statement Wednesday. “This will now delay the scheduled departure of the Springboks from South Africa to Australia.
“SANZAAR said it would provide an update on the resolution of these discussions and a timetable for the Springboks participation in The Rugby Championship when available in the coming days.”
The extension to the deadline for a South African decision and the delayed departure for Australia creates doubt the Springboks will be ready to play their first match in the tournament against Argentina on Nov. 7.
New Zealand and Australia meet in the opening match on Oct. 31, a test rescheduled from Dec. 12. The All Blacks were reluctant to play in mid-December because, with the need to spend 14 days in mandatory isolation on their return to New Zealand, players would still be quarantined on Christmas Day.
The issue created acrimony between SANZAAR and New Zealand but was resolved by moving the final match, meaning Australia and New Zealand will play each other in four consecutive tests, two in New Zealand and two in Australia.
The concern for South African Rugby is that a no-show by the world champions would likely have serious financial repercussions. They would at least lose their share of broadcasting revenues that will be split among the competing nations.
John Plumtree, the All Blacks assistant coach who has extensive coaching experience in South Africa, told reporters in Auckland on Wednesday he doubts the Springboks will be ready for the start of the tournament.
Plumtree said the delayed start to the Currie Cup made it harder for the Springboks to get match hardened.
“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,” he said. “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.”