SANZAAR says the Rugby Championship could yet be saved by staging it in Covid-19-free New Zealand but is this not giving the All Blacks too much of an unfair advantage?
This would be especially so if virus-struck South Africa continues to fail to get rugby resumed because of spiralling infections.
On the table is a truncated Super Rugby competition between our four teams, earmarked to start in September, but there is hardly any guarantee that this will get off the ground, and even if did, would there be enough time for our players to get properly battle-hardened before November where they could be playing the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas in a New Zealand bio-bubble?
As matters stand now, the Kiwis in any case have a massive head start in that their Aotearoa Cup is into its sixth round, and a pulsating competition it has been, too.
This weekend, Super Rugby Australia enters its third round, but Argentina has disbanded the Jaguares and encouraged its players to seek employment in Europe, while South Africa’s players have been allowed to start running and gymming in batches of no more than five but are some way off from being allowed to handle the ball in training or take contact, never mind play.
Sanzaar’s desire to salvage the Rugby Championship is perfectly understandable given the vast sums of broadcasting money at stake, and they will be pushing the point that some kind of international rugby is better than none, but if the competition is going to be heavily loaded in favour of one team, I disagree.
Sanzaar initially said they were looking at Australia’s eastern seaboard as a venue to host the Championship but Covid has unfortunately reared its head once more in Australia, with climbing outbreaks in Victoria and New South Wales.
New Zealand’s Sport and Recreation Minister, Grant Robertson, says his government would be “open” to hosting the Rugby Championship as long as the safety of its people can be assured.
“It’s a really exciting idea – I think, like a lot of New Zealanders, I’d really look forward to it but there’s quite a lot of work to do before we can guarantee it,” Robertson said.
Of course the Kiwis are excited. Their rugby is flying at the moment and hosting a Rugby Championship that they would be overwhelming favourites to win is just the tonic they need after their failure in Japan at the World Cup.
The All Blacks are nigh on impossible to beat in New Zealand at the best of times, and to play a Championship where all of their games would be in front of capacity home crowds, and against under-prepared teams, would just about guarantee them the silverware.
It would be a mini-World Cup for them, and I was in New Zealand when they hosted the 2011 World Cup and can tell you that home ground advantage there is massive.
Forgive me if I sound negative or even defeatist but the Springboks’ world champion status was hard-earned and is precious, and if they don’t at least have a fighting chance of defending their No 1 status, I don’t think they should compete until the playing field is fair and level.