Springboks: Rugby Championship defence looking doubtful

All Blacks v Springboks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)
All Blacks v Springboks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Will the Springboks be uncontested Rugby Championship 2019 title-holders at the end of the 2020 calendar year? I believe that scenario, sadly, is drawing closer and closer to fruition.

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The imbalance in playing readiness between the relevant southern-hemisphere nations just gets more acute by the week.

New Zealand are already four rounds into the compelling product that is Super Rugby Aotearoa, and now Australian rugby is up and running again - with restricted stadium audiences in their case, though still better than a completely closed-doors environment - with their "Super Rugby AU" version which kicked off at the weekend.

Meanwhile the coronavirus curve remains on a generally grim, sobering course in South Africa, meaning that our professional players still kick their heels even in terms of any contact-based training.

Remember that the longer the gap between last playing activity - Super Rugby-proper came to a grinding halt in mid-March - and resumption of competitive rugby, the more time will be required to get players to required conditioning levels for the rigours of combat.

Latest estimates are that domestic rugby will only swing back into action with an expanded Currie Cup, probably featuring the addition this year of the Kings, at the start of spring (late August or early September).

By then, South Africa's elite international players, proud joint-holders of the World Cup and Championship titles from 2019, will need at least a few rounds of domestic rugby to be able to muster the required stamina and all-round safe medical readiness for Test duty ... simultaneously, that drags us ever closer to summer.

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SA Rugby has already indicated that it will prioritise a return to Test rugby, including doing some "reverse engineering" if necessary to fast-track a return to the most lucrative landscape of them all for the defending world champions.

But the biggest question, in terms of any move toward either a full or (again) single-round Rugby Championship, is likely be around the opening - or not - of international borders in the closing months of the year.

Another worrying little reminder for you: the newest members of the former Tri-Nations, Argentina, share with South Africa rising coronavirus numbers, to the extent that the capital and largest city, Buenos Aires, recently retightened several lockdown restrictions after a noticeable spike in infections there.

Even if the tournament were to be staged, as suggested already, in a central country/city, the sands of time in 2020 are running dangerously low, I'd venture, for a Championship.

But I do always try to remain a staunch optimist.

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

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