- Super Rugby Unlocked is facing the very real prospect of being derailed by the coronavirus.
- One match has already been called off and another this coming weekend is in doubt.
- Stormers coach John Dobson says that losing games could impact on the integrity of the competition.
With just seven teams participating in one round of fixtures, every match in Super Rugby Unlocked is important in the overall context of the log.
On November 21, when the sides have played six games each, a winner will be crowned and those log points will then be carried over into a Currie Cup competition that will see the same seven sides play against each other one more time all the through until a January 23 final.
Following six months of no action as a result of the coronavirus crisis, rugby is now back and fans and sponsors alike are being rewarded for their patience in a competition that has dished up some surprising results and highly competitive matches.
This past weekend, however, the Cheetahs' clash against the Lions at Ellis Park was called off. It is not clear if the match will be rescheduled, but given the congested nature of the fixture list between now and January, that seems unlikely.
The sides bagged two log points each and the Cheetahs, who had been the form side in the competition up until that point, missed an opportunity to secure a third straight victory and cement their place as favourites to claim one of two pieces of silverware this season.
The decision to call off the match was taken by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICB) after the Lions had six players test positive for the coronavirus, taking the total number of their players in isolation to 11.
As a result of their clash with the Lions on 17 October and their exposure to one of the infected players, the Stormers then also lost Steven Kitshoff and Scarra Ntubeni for their match against the Pumas this past weekend.
It was an example of how quickly concerns over the spread of the virus can see players sidelined.
On Tuesday, the Lions will undergo another mandatory round of testing that will effectively determine whether Friday night's clash against Griquas at Ellis Park will go ahead.
Given that these two sides are both winless so far in the competition, splitting the points will obviously not have an impact on who will win Super Rugby Unlocked, but it does impact their efforts at securing a semi-final place in the Currie Cup next year.
Of greater concern, though, is that with South Africa expecting a second wave of coronavirus infections, squads will continue to be impacted.
"I wouldn't say it's inevitable, but it's highly possible," Sharks coach Sean Everitt said last week.
On Monday, Stormers coach John Dobson agreed that the virus was threatening to derail the tournament.
"We had a very strict, strong talk with the players today about their lives outside the HPC (High Performance Centre). We can control what happens, here, but we can't really control outside. It's home, [to the] shop, no socialising," said Dobson.
"The Cheetahs potentially may have lost two or three points by factors out of their control. The Lions, through Covid, have potentially lost a home win.
"We want to do our best to avoid us being in that same position.
"I think it's a threat to this tournament that some big games are going to come down to a Covid situation towards the end and we've got to control it as best we can.
"I think the authorities are handling it really well, but it's clear now that this could impact on the integrity of the competition."
Another concern for the Lions is that their players who have been isolating have missed out on valuable training time.
If Friday's match does go ahead, it will kick off at 19:00.