Super Rugby

SA Rugby's huge scheduling headache

  • SA Rugby has an unavoidably foggier fixture outlook than counterparts in Australasia presently do
  • Any lengthy delay in a local-themed 'Super Rugby' runs a risk of encroaching on the Currie Cup.
  • The need to get the RWC-winning Springboks back on the field is a clear priority for the body.

The planners at SA Rugby's Plattekloof headquarters must be looking toward New Zealand and Australia with increasing envy.

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While the other two heavyweight powers in the Sanzaar alliance prepare with increasing confidence for respective, all-domestic mini-versions of Super Rugby in the coming weeks - NZ's Super Rugby Aotearoa scheduled for a 13 June kick-off - South Africa's rugby resumption situation remains shrouded in considerable fog.

No estimated date has yet been able to be placed on launch of an intended SA equivalent, which would probably include the Cheetahs and Kings as additions to the regular quartet of Super Rugby franchises.

The country is much further behind the two Australasian nations on the "Covid-19 curve" and is only about to shift to Level 3 of the lockdown process. Returns to stricter levels have not even been ruled out by the Government.

A big advantage for those two countries, as a result, is that they can more optimistically expect to fit in suitably generous, good-quality domestic tournaments ahead of the spring in the southern hemisphere, when more critical Test rugby is likely to become a priority.

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Back in South Africa, however, the big squeeze is on to gauge whether a generous bout of Super Rugby-style derbies can be accommodated at the peak of mid-winter before that shift in emphasis takes hold.

The NZ tournament runs until mid-August, while an Australian event is expected to begin at some point in July.

In each instance, there should be ample enough time to complete business before an anticipated, annual Rugby Championship in a pushed-back, October to November time frame; it has been proposed that the four-nation event be centrally staged in Australia.

For SA Rugby, the weeks are clicking by a little more ominously, as uncertainty continues to reign supreme.

At what point, too, do they make a potential decision to shelve the any mini-Super Rugby quest because of the approach of the traditional domestic prime event: the time-honoured Currie Cup?

Last year's Currie Cup - albeit in a World Cup year - began on 12 July (now only around six weeks away), and the 2018 version, in a more conventional rugby year, in a later slot of 17 August.

Could there be viable room, given the peculiar circumstances of 2020, for a partial crossover between the two competitions if it has to come down to that?

That scenario would be a risky one: the continued exodus of top professional names to clubs in the northern hemisphere means there has already been a marked dilution of quality on home terrain.

If, for example, the Bulls were still active in a "Super Rugby" of some shape, what might a Blue Bulls line-up in the Currie Cup look like?

Given the absence of first-class rugby since March, there should be resurgent appetite for domestic combat when it can eventually proceed, and SA Rugby would no doubt wish to attach some promotional bells and whistles - and ideally just to one, clear-cut competition.

A well-placed source in the corridors of power at Plattekloof reminded Sport24 that they need to put out the World Cup-holding Springboks above all else, to honour their highest-value broadcast and sponsorship deals.

Everything then would "reverse engineer" from any live rugby possibilities in the second half of the season.

SA Rugby have a variety of kick-off calendars in place for both a Super Rugby (almost certainly with a difference) and a Currie Cup.

"(But) until it becomes known when we can play again, all local and international roster scenarios are pretty meaningless," the source added.

The waiting game continues ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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