Opinions

Boks boast depth for a Northern and Southern Hemisphere side

As appearing in IOL Sport

It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. There are enough quality South African players in both hemispheres for the Springboks to field two different squads to play in two different hemispheres in two different competitions in the next few months.

It isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.

The All Blacks in 2006 selected 39 players for their June internationals, with 24 used in the two-Test series against Ireland in New Zealand and a team of 15 sent to Buenos Aires to prepare for the Pumas. The substitutes for the Argentina match were made up of players who had been a part of the second Test win against Ireland in Auckland. They joined the starting XV a few days before the Test.

The All Blacks won all three Tests.

The men in black didn’t quite have the same success when they selected two different teams to play Test matches against Australia and South Africa respectively on the same day in 1949.

The double defeats were described as a unique misfortune and one unlikely ever to be emulated; the losing of two international matches on the same day.

The All Blacks lost 11-6 at home to Australia and later in the day lost 9-3 to the Springboks in South Africa.

Huw Richards, on scrum.com, wrote that the ‘double failure was rooted in the New Zealand Rugby Union’s guilt at having betrayed their players by bowing to South African Apartheid laws, sending a touring team to South African minus several Maori players’.

Because of the selection policy, based on South Africa’s refusal to allow the Maori All Black to tour, the NZRU, as a consolation prize arranged a Bledisloe Cup series against the Wallabies in New Zealand.

It turned messy for the All Blacks, with Ralph Garner scoring two tries in Australia’s win in Wellington and Okey Geffin’s  boot securing a Bok win in Durban.

The New Zealand Freelance newspaper headlined the Saturday as an ‘All Black Day in rugby’.

The Springboks, fielding two squads, in two hemispheres would not be a result of politics but a way to circumvent travelling and quarantine restrictions caused by Covid-19.

The South African Rugby Union leadership is desperate for the world champion Springboks to play and given the catastrophic commercial effects of no rugby having been played in South Africa for the past five months (due to Covid-19), participating in the Eight-Nations competition in November/December would be a cash bonanza.

The National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, in tandem with Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, could select a Bok squad exclusively from those currently playing their domestic club and provincial rugby in the northern hemisphere. Those South Africans have been playing for the past month and would not be at a disadvantage when it came to match preparation and conditioning.

The players would also not have to travel and would not have to go through any quarantine period.

South Africa have reportedly been invited to replace Japan in a group consisting Italy, Scotland and France. The winner of the group would play the winner of a group consisting of England, Wales, Ireland and Fiji. I’d back an overseas-based Bok team to win the group and certainly be a contender to win the final.

Erasmus, for example, could be the one who takes control of the Boks in the Eight-Nations tournament while new coach Nienaber travels to New Zealand with the South African-based Springboks.

Imagine the possibilities if the Boks played in the Eight-Nations and the Rugby Championship with two different squads and won both!

South African rugby’s move to the northern hemisphere is now a matter of ‘when and not if’.

It is doubtful Super Rugby will ever restart after Covid-19 ended this year’s international tournament and expect to see the Sharks, Stormers, Bulls and Lions playing in a revamped Pro 16 tournament in 2021 in the northern hemisphere.

The Springboks may continue to play in the Rugby Championship but the integration to more Test matches in the northern hemisphere will only intensify and the Boks could find themselves part of an expanded Six Nations.

The move north improves and protects player welfare and also would make SA Rugby financially more secure. The lure of the world champion Springboks and SA’s top franchises is big and earlier in the week SA Rugby CE Jurie Roux confirmed that all decisions regarding the Springboks this year would be ‘rugby decisions made in consultation with Erasmus as National Director of Rugby’.

Nienaber has already expressed his concern that his Bok squad would be on a hiding to nothing playing in the Rugby Championship because of minimal game time when compared to New Zealand and Australia’s players, who have been playing domestic versions of Super Rugby for the past two months.

The All Black selectors even had the luxury of a North versus South match in Wellington earlier today (subs Saturday) before the announcement of the first All Blacks squad of the year.

In contrast, South African-based players only started contact training this week in preparation for a domestic competition scheduled to start on the 10th October and finish on the 16th January, 2021.

Never before has playing in a northern hemisphere rugby competition looked as appealing. Equally, never before has a trip to New Zealand for a Test series looked as unappealing.

The Eight-Nations competition, in the current climate, would be the best rugby decision for the Boks, but if their participation in the Rugby Championship is non-negotiable because of existing commercial commitments to the broadcasters, then it is possible, given the depth of South African rugby, to send a team to both competitions.

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*Mark Keohane’s Northern Hemisphere-based Bok run-on XV: *Dillyn Leyds, Raymond Rhule, Jan Serfontein, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez, Marcell Coetzee, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Bismarck du Plessis and Coenie Oosthuizen.

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