SA exiting Super Rugby would perk up Rugby Championship

Springboks v All Blacks (Getty Images)
Springboks v All Blacks (Getty Images)

If it only resumes next year (an increasing likelihood) the Rugby Championship may, inadvertently, be a more compelling product.

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An enforced gap year in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, would instantly heighten interest for the 2021 competition, with a fresher feel and some sense of regrowth among the four competing nations.

By then, though, a tonic of another type may have come into play for Springbok enthusiasts: the lack of a preceding Super Rugby tournament featuring players from our neck of the woods.

That will come about if, in the interim, SA Rugby shifts our four existing franchise participants into an expanded version of the northern hemisphere's PRO14 ... a strengthening rumour, fuelled by the murmurs from Australasia that the two superpowers there wish to "go it alone" at Super Rugby level in future.

A seismic shift like that, after quarter of a century of loyalty to pro-era Super Rugby, would provoke controversy and no lack of ruefulness in some circles back here.

But it would remove quite a significant portion of the "same old faces" look to the Championship, coming as it traditionally has, annually, in the immediate smoke trail of Super Rugby.

Especially when the South African challenge in Super Rugby has been a forceful one, with interest by at least one team right to the end of the finals series phase, the Championship - usually held over a double round, too, something the ever-prestigious Six Nations steers clear of - has surrendered more than a little of its mystique.

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When the Bulls were in their 2007-10 heyday, for example, they might find their Bok-laden side playing the Crusaders (just as crammed with top-bracket All Blacks) toward the end of ordinary season, then again in a key knockout match.

Just a few weeks beyond that, many of the same customers would be fronting the respective international causes over two legs between the Test arch-rivals.

If the cream of SA domestic franchises shifted emphasis to the other side of the equator, there would instantly be deeper curiosity every year over how our finest players weigh up against New Zealand counterparts - minus the intelligence that would more customarily be gleaned during the long Super Rugby slog.

Also to consider: it has always been less than ideal (at least that's how I feel) that the Jaguares of Super Rugby simply reappear soon afterwards, in at least 95 percent of playing-personnel cases, as the Pumas in the Championship.

On that note, nobody has said much yet about the fate of the Argentinean franchise if the SA sides do abandon Super Rugby and the Australasian heavyweight countries cosy up more profoundly together.

Perhaps a subject for another day?

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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