Rugby needs old-school Springboks v All Blacks tours

24 August 1996 was one of the great days in the history of the All Blacks. They achieved a goal that every New Zealand rugby player and fan had for years yearned for: beating the Springboks in a series in South Africa.

New Zealand's 33-26 win at Loftus Versfeld saw them secure a first ever series win on these shores in six attempts (seven if the rebel tour of 1986 is included).

The Springboks, who had won a series in New Zealand in 1937, were now back in the international fold and the stage looked set for several mouth-watering Test series' between the two old foes.

However, 1996 also saw the dawn of professionalism and that All Blacks triumph would prove the last time these two giants of the world game would square off in a series.

The current coronavirus-enforced lockdown has put the sport under renewed pressure, with the uncertainty regarding return-to-action leaving more questions than answers.

There's no doubt that the game's top brass will have to be innovative once rugby returns on a global scale, and for me it will provide the ideal opportunity to bring back a more traditional element: old-school tours.

The expansion of Super Rugby has copped countless flak in recent years and perhaps the Rugby Championship deserves an equal lack of praise.

Do rugby fans really care?

I'm pretty sure if you ask the general fan, they'd struggle to recall with certainty that the world champion Springboks also won 2019's Rugby Championship.

I agree with the notion that a 12-team all-plays-all format was the best ever for Super Rugby - and I'd agree that seeing the Springboks face the All Blacks in a three or four-Test series every two or three years would see a significant increase in the popularity of the game.

The British & Irish Lions tour is the only semblance of the traditional tours that remains in the modern game and there's no doubt participating in such a tour is something players value highly.

It's no secret that some big-name Springboks - Pieter-Steph du Toit for one - have expressed their desire to tick the box of a British & Irish Lions tour. Some have even hinted a series win would top South Africa's 2019 World Cup triumph.

So why not create something more regular?

I wonder what would be more prestigious for a Springbok: winning a Rugby World Cup or beating the All Blacks in a Test series?

TV viewership will skyrocket for such an event, not to mentioned sold-out stadiums (if Covid-19 has subsided) and seeing touring teams play midweek matches against provincial teams would add a further financial boost for unions in an ongoing treacherous economic environment.

Griquas fans will fondly recall their famous 18-all draw against the All Blacks at a packed Hoffe Park in 1996 and ask any historian about a famous Western Province triumph and the 12-11 win over the Kiwis at Newlands in 1976 will immediately spring to mind.

Seeing the Springboks batter the Wallabies in a single home Test every year has become monotonous, but how much more value and interest would a three-Test series against the same foes every three or so years generate?

My immediate guess would be a largely positive response.

However, I'm not sure rugby's top brass would concur. Their reasoning would likely be an already overcrowded calendar and player burnout.

Clubs, especially the wealthiest ones in the northern hemisphere, are often reluctant to release their players for tours down south - and doing so now for an even more protracted period would prove problematic.

Yet, ask any former British Lion about the prestige of touring either South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and you'll realise the importance of the event.

The same would ring true if any All Black, Springbok or Wallaby could say they had the honour of playing in a victorious Test series against either of their southern hemisphere rivals.

The interest is clearly there, as can be attested by three legendary former All Blacks recently trumping the idea.

"Surely there would be a hunger to see South Africa come back to New Zealand and play a three-Test series?" Jeff Wilson said on Sky Sports New Zealand's The Breakdown show last month.

John Kirwan concurred: "When I talk about this I always talk about tribalism and tradition. Why is the Lions so successful? Because we look forward to it."

Justin Marshall also agreed: "Let's think about the modern-day player and some of our more established, senior All Blacks. It's quite repetitive for them, even the international games. All of a sudden you throw into the mix, like when they (the All Blacks) played Munster a few years ago (in 2007), which was an outstanding success. Those sorts of things are vibrant for the current professional players, who do get a lot of repetition in their rugby."

Yes, there are TV deals in place and it probably wouldn't be viable to scrap the Rugby Championship altogether, but what about hosting the quadrangular event every second year, instead of annually?

It would provide the opportunity of staging tours in those gap years and I've got no doubt that the TV viewership would skyrocket.

Rugby will need a significant boost in the period after the Covid-19 crisis and perhaps this is the ideal opportunity for the sport's top brass to proclaim: "Let's go back to the future".

Springbok flank Ruben Kruger on the charge against

Springbok flank Ruben Kruger on the charge against the All Blacks in the 1996 series (Gallo Images)

Herman Mostert is a long-time Sport24 employee...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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