Sold a dummy: Jake White accuses SA Rugby and co of false promises after URC travel dramas

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  • Jake White startlingly reveals that SA's URC franchises were sold a false vision in terms of easier travel after joining the tournament from Super Rugby.
  • Last season's inaugural edition was dogged by disruption in the aviation market due to Covid-19, which led to the teams travelling via various stopovers in economy class.
  • As a result, the selling point rang hollow, which White hopes might now be solved by SA Rugby's agreement with Qatar Airways.

Bulls mentor Jake White hopes Qatar Airways' three-year sponsorship agreement with the United Rugby Championship (URC) and SA Rugby rights what he sees as a false vision sold to South African players and coaches.

One of the major selling points to franchises for joining the northern hemisphere in late 2020 was that players wouldn't be subjected to the arduous travel requirements that dogged local teams' Super Rugby participation.

However, in an innocuous yet startling revelation, the former World Cup-winning Springbok coach suggested that the commercial partnership, announced on Tuesday, became imperative because there was little material difference to the ease of travel.

In fact, it started bordering on becoming worse because SA Rugby Travel, the governing body's official travel agency and central overseas booking agent for the franchises, had to book economy class flights with various stopovers owing to cost challenges in a severely disrupted air travel market due to Covid-19.

Incidentally, the Bulls felt the full brunt of the problem ahead of last season's final against the Stormers in Cape Town, when their preparation for the showpiece was cut by one day because of delays flying back from Dublin via Doha after memorably beating Leinster in a semi-final.

Jake White. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

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"The one area we had to sharpen up on was the travel. To fly around the world to get to Europe is not ideal and doing so in economy class wasn't ideal either," White said after he was queried on the lessons learnt in the inaugural edition of the tournament.

"One of the sells to the players was that when we moved on from Super Rugby - even with business class to Sydney - you wouldn’t be that far away from home that often. There was even the talk of overnight flights."

The pandemic put paid to such lofty ideals, particularly after the UK controversially placed South Africa on its red list following the emergence of the Omicron variant back in December.

South Africa's participation in the Champions and Challenge Cups, along with a normalised URC schedule that has always been characterised by more one-off trips - just ask the Cheetahs and Southern Kings in the PRO14 - means ease of travel now becomes absolutely vital.

Mark Alexander, SA Rugby's president, was in Qatar's capital earlier this week to commemorate the partnership, which sees the airline becoming the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers, Lions and Cheetahs' official carrier for the European tournament in particular.

It also announced that all-inclusive travel packages will be launched for fans in due course.

"Now, we know the schedule is what it is, but we, for example can go to Exeter one week for the Champions Cup, come back for a home game and then fly back to Europe for a URC game. If you're flying all over at various stopovers in economy class, it's a problem," said White.

"Hopefully, with the Qatar sponsorship, it has been addressed. Getting to London via, via, via wasn't how the tournament was sold to us as coaches and payers. And I'm pretty sure the expectations were the same for fans who perhaps did have the means to attend the odd away game."


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