South Africa has pulled out of the Australia-hosted Rugby Championship citing its government’s travel restrictions, player welfare and safety concerns. The tournament will continue, however, featuring just Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.
SANZAAR said in a statement the reigning World Cup winners will no longer compete against the other three countries, who will instead compete in the Tri-Nations tournament.
The decision means South Africa are due to play no international matches between their World Cup victory over England in Japan in early November, 2019 and July 2021, when they host the British and Irish Lions in Johannesburg.
South African Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said in the SANZAAR statement: “This is a hugely disappointing outcome for supporters and commercial partners but the on-going impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations mean we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare, apart from other logistical challenges.
“With time essentially having run out, it left us with no option. SANZAAR and Rugby Australia have bent over backwards to make the tournament happen and it would have been unfair on them, their partners and state government to delay a decision any longer.”
The South African-based portion of what was a 46-player squad was scheduled to fly from Johannesburg on Sunday. However, government regulations as currently drafted meant it was unclear whether the team would legally be able to depart.
Roux said that the local challenges were compounded by the fact that the 24 overseas based players, who had been identified for potential selection (depending on COVID-19 status) and for whom visas had been applied, were based with European or Japanese clubs.
“Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories,” he said.
“It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia. We understand that public safety concerns come first and there’s no way that we could expect short cuts to be found to get them out of their host countries and into the Springbok bubble.
“But the impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to being able to compete.”
The five-week Tri-Nations will begin on October 31 with Australia hosting New Zealand in Sydney.
Rassie Erasmus, Director of Rugby, said that his department had planned for every scenario.
“We worked out that the players needed a minimum of 400 minutes of game time before they could be ready for a Test match,” said Erasmus. “The overseas-based players had started playing before us and they would have been getting close to that time by 7 November.
“But many of those have completed their programmes or have had COVID outbreaks which has interrupted the planning. The Japanese based players haven’t played any rugby at all, while the home-based players would be well short of 400 minutes by the time of kick off.”
“It seems impossible that the Springboks won’t play a Test match in 2020, but public health and safety have been the primary concern and we have been collateral damage like so many businesses.
“All we can do now is enjoy our domestic competitions and find ways to be ready for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions in 2021.”
“COVID is just a gift that keeps on giving!,” said SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos.
“Naturally, it is extremely disappointing that the Springboks, due to the continued complexities of operating in and around this COVID environment, cannot fully compete in the previously planned six-round Rugby Championship. That said this now presents us with a unique opportunity, in this our 25thyear, to close off 2020 with a SANZAR Tri Nations Competition.”
The first two matches involving Australia and New Zealand double up as the final two Bledisloe Cup series matches.
October 31: Australia v New Zealand (ANZ Stadium, Sydney)
November 7: Australia v New Zealand (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
November 14: New Zealand v Argentina (Bankwest Stadium, Sydney)
November 21: Argentina v Australia (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle)
November 28: Argentina v New Zealand (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle)
December 5: Australia v Argentina (Bankwest Stadium, Sydney)