Rugby Championship reduced to six matches as South Africa withdraw
South Africa, the rugby union world champions, have withdrawn from the Rugby Championship, the southern hemisphere’s national teams competition, due to concerns over player welfare and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual tournament, set to take place entirely in Australia from 31 October to 5 December, will now be contested by only Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.
The decision means the tournament will be cut from 12 to six matches, but will still go ahead over a six-week period, with each team having at least two bye weeks.
The tournament had already been postponed from earlier this year because of the pandemic, and the South African Rugby Union had delayed making a decision over the participation of its Springboks after new dates were announced by competition organiser Sanzaar.
With the window to get players into Australia in time for a mandatory two-week quarantine before the tournament coming to a close, on Wednesday, Sanzaar gave SARU an additional 48 hours to confirm their participation.
However, SARU today announced it would be withdrawing, citing player welfare concern due to the delayed start to their domestic competition and uncertainty over government travel restrictions for players in South Africa and Europe.
South Africa’s top domestic league, the Currie Cup, only resumed on 10 October and the national side’s last match was the Rugby World Cup final win over England last November, meaning it would have had little preparation for the Rugby Championship.
Jurie Roux, SARU chief executive, said: “This is a hugely disappointing outcome for supporters and commercial partners but the ongoing impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without serious compromising player welfare.
“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 British and Irish Lions are due to tour South Africa next July and August, and the hosts could be without a competitive international until then.
The withdrawal of the Springboks from the Rugby Championship will have a sizeable impact on the tournament’s revenues at a time when the participating nations are facing financial challenges brought about by the pandemic.
The reduction in matches may also cause tensions with broadcasters, which had expected a full competition and could seek to renegotiate terms in the two weeks leading up the competition.
The tournament is being shown in Australia and New Zealand by pay-television operators Foxtel and Sky respectively.
Other broadcasters include SuperSport (sub-Saharan Africa), Sky (UK), Sky Italia (Italy), Canal Plus (France), OSN (MENA region), J Sports (Japan), Setanta Sports (Southeast Asia) and ESPN (USA and Canada).