Rugby is back on South African shores this weekend, with Super Saturday being the first semi-competitive matches we will have seen since March. What is great about these matches being on Super Saturday is that they are not for the sake of competition points, but rather to dust the cobwebs off.
We have seen in New Zealand, Australia and Europe that the first few games post lockdown are always error-strewn, penalty-laden affairs, so to get them out of the way with no real points or competition other than pride at stake will be great to see.
But that very same difficulty in shaking off the cobwebs is I am writing this today. I want to ask the question that many have already asked, which is: is it worth it for South Africa to play in the Rugby Championship this year?
Firstly, I am a great believer in the rivalry between the All Blacks and the Springboks, and I cannot see a year of rugby go by without that match. It is the biggest match on any rugby calendar. And that is why I don’t think it should be played this year.
What makes the rivalry so pure, so special and so vital to the rugby calendar is that it is two of the world’s best teams going head to head, in packed stadiums, where pride and country (and sometimes silverware) is on the line. This year, the two best teams would not be going head to head.
The All Blacks have been in camp for well over two weeks now, having already completed Super Rugby Aotearoa, which consisted of 10 matches per team, plus an additional North versus South derby too. They are much more battle-hardened and battle-ready than the Boks could possibly be by the time November comes along.
To put the World Champions up against the All Blacks now would be a disservice to both teams and their supporters, as it won’t be the best Boks against the best All Blacks.
Some have suggested the only reason not to play these matches would be because of world rankings and called for them to be suspended this year. I think these people are missing the point.
Who cares if the Springboks lose their top spot after losing to New Zealand? I wouldn’t. But What I do care about is the fact that the intensity of the rivalry will not be as hot, the match will not be as good, the players will not be as equally-footed, and most importantly of all, it will take place in front of Australian fans who hate both teams equally.
Yes, I want that match, but I do not think having it this year will be worth the cost of travelling to Australia at the expense of the local competitions in South Africa over that period.
For the first time since the beginning of the professional era, we have the opportunity to play a wholly domestic tournament with South African franchises with all of their Springboks available barring injury.
The domestic tournaments will see all teams on an equal playing field in terms of time on the field this year. The focus has to then be on getting all the players back to full fitness ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour next year. And with every franchise’s place in a possible PRO 16 on the line in the Currie Cup, you’d want to get your best players in that tournament.
But as I said in the beginning, either way you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.