- South African rugby will resume on September 26 following a period of six months out due to the coronavirus.
- A seven-team local competition will be played over the festive season.
- The participation of the Springboks in this year's Rugby Championship remains in doubt.
South African rugby lovers were finally given the good news they had been waiting for on Wednesday with confirmation that a return to competitive action is near.
There has been no rugby played in South Africa since March when Super Rugby was suspended as a result of the global coronavirus crisis.
Sport worldwide came to a screeching halt back then, but over the past couple of months professional rugby has returned in New Zealand, Australia and now Europe too.
South Africans, however, have had to remain patient.
On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be moving into Level 1 of its national coronavirus lockdown, but hours before that speech there was a statement from SA Rugby which confirmed a return to the playing field later this month.
Here, we give you everything you need to know about the return to play:
When will rugby be back?
The season will resume in the form of a curtain raiser on 26 September with a double-header at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, when the Bulls take on the Sharks, and the Lions battle the Stormers in what is being called 'Super Fan Saturday'.
Then, the following weekend, there will be a unique 'Springbok Showdown' that will see a group of 60 players drafted into two sides - coached by Mzwandile Stick and Deon Davids - in a match that will take place at Newlands. The match will effectively serve as another opportunity to get some minutes under the belt ahead of the Currie Cup, but it will also provide an opportunity for Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber to have a look at some of the players who would be in Springbok contention should they take part in the Rugby Championship in November.
On October 10, a local competition (likely the Currie Cup) will get underway with a total of seven unions competing. The fixtures for the tournament are yet to be released, but what has been confirmed is that the competition will continue over Christmas and New Year and will culminate in semi-finals (16 January) and a final on 23 January next year.
Why has it taken so long for rugby to return in SA?
Quite simply, the strict national lockdown prevented unions and franchises from training. A return to non-contact training was only allowed in mid-July and, by that stage, Super Rugby Aotearoa had already been going for a month. A return to contact training was only announced at the end of August. The longer the players were sidelined, the longer they needed to get back into a state of match readiness and the franchises have effectively been made to accommodate a full pre-season training.
What teams will play in the local competition?
The Lions, Stormers, Sharks, Bulls, Cheetahs, Griquas and Pumas are expected to make up the seven teams. The Kings announced back in August that they would not be playing in any competitions for the remainder of 2020 due to the financial challenges currently plaguing the union.
Will spectators be allowed at the stadiums?
No. There were full crowds allowed in New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa and small crowds allowed during Australia's Super Rugby AU, but South Africa is a long way off that.
Why not just wait for next season instead of trying to squeeze a local event into 2020?
There needs to be rugby played to generate income, and given all the rugby that was lost in 2020, SA Rugby and the franchises need to salvage as much as possible. There were broadcast deals and sponsorships in place for 2020 and playing a competitive, televised event over the festive season will give those investors a window to at least find some value in the product.
What about the Springboks ... when will we see them again?
The 2020 Rugby Championship will be hosted in Australia and will get underway on 7 November, but South Africa's participation in that tournament is yet to be confirmed. The obvious stumbling block to playing in that competition is that the vast majority of the Springboks have not played any competitive rugby since March while the All Blacks and Wallabies have just completed full domestic seasons.
While there will be a much-needed injection of funds should the Boks play in the tournament, SA Rugby must ultimately decide whether that money is worth the possible reputational damage that could come with fielding an understrength, undercooked side in Australia and, more importantly, worth the obvious risk of injury.
Next year's British & Irish Lions tour is the obvious main event for the Springboks, but if they do not play in the Rugby Championship, then South African rugby will be in the very unique position of having not played a Test match throughout 2020.
- Compiled by Lloyd Burnard