South Africa Rugby has withdrawn the Springboks from the Rugby Championship scheduled for Australia in two weeks time.
According to a statement by SA Rugby, the on-gong complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about seriously jeopardising player welfare made it impossible to commit to SANZAAR that South Africa would be able to compete.
SANZAAR is due to make an announcement on an amended international match schedule involving Australia, New Zealand and Argentina on Friday.
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.
In addition, mounting concerns relating to player welfare, were a major concern.
“With time essentially having run out, it left us with no option,” said Jurie Roux, SA Rugby CEO.
“This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners but the on-going impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously 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.”
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 be being able to compete.”
SA Rugby consulted with MyPlayers – the players’ representative body – who supported the decision.
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.”
SA-based players played their first competitive matches at the weekend, 29 weeks after their last competitive match in Vodacom Super Rugby. In contrast New Zealand’s and Australia’s players contested a Test match, 17 weeks and 14 weeks respectively after they resumed competitive rugby.
Roux said: “It has been an extremely challenging year and what started out as a two-week lockdown evolved into a global crisis, one of whose side effects has been to decimate our rugby calendar.
“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.”