The world champions have decided not to travel to Australia for the tournament

South Africa withdraw from Rugby Championship

South Africa will not defend their Rugby Championship title in Australia in the coming weeks after withdrawing from the competition.

The Springboks squad was due to depart Johannesburg on Sunday but government regualtions regarding the Covid-19 pandemic meant it was “unclear whether the team would legally be able to depart” according to SA Rugby.

There are also player welfare concerns given that the Boks have not played a Test match since beating England in last year’s World Cup final and their top South Africa-based players have only recently returned to action.

The world champions were due to play Argentina in their opening game on 7 November, but now the Pumas, New Zealand and Australia will play a Tri-Nations tournament.

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said: “This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners but the ongoing impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare.”

An added complication is the fact that South Africa’s overseas-based players – the likes of Faf de Klerk at Sale and Damian De Allende at Munster – face different Covid restrictions.

Roux added: “Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories. It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia.

“We understand that public safety concerns come first and there’s no way that we could expect short cuts to be found to get them out of their host countries and into the Springbok bubble.

“But the impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to being able to compete.”

The other factor was the lack of rugby played by many of the squad. South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said: “We worked out that the players needed a minimum of 400 minutes of game time before they could be ready for a Test match.

“The overseas-based players had started playing before us and they would have been getting close to that time by 7 November.

“But many of those have completed their programmes or have had Covid outbreaks which has interrupted the planning. The Japanese-based players haven’t played any rugby at all, while the home-based players would be well short of 400 minutes by the time of kick off.”

South Africa’s withdrawal means SANZAAR have now announced a new Tri-Nations schedule, with the Wallabies and All Blacks playing back-to-back on 31 October and 7 November to start the tournament. These will double up as the final two Bledisloe Cup matches.

The Pumas, who have already arrived in Australia to go through the necessary quarantine procedures, will have two bye weekends at the start and then be involved in the subsequent four matches.

Wallabies and All Blacks players have both played in domestic Super Rugby competitions and met in the first Bledisloe Cup game of the season last weekend, but the Pumas have not played any competitive rugby since the cross-border Super Rugby tournament ended in March.

SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said: “Naturally, it is extremely disappointing that the Springboks, due to the continued complexities of operating in and around this Covid environment, cannot fully compete in the previously planned six-round Rugby Championship.

“That said this now presents us with a unique opportunity, in this our 25th year, to close off 2020 with a SANZAAR Tri-Nations competition. While it has been a far from ideal preparation we look forward to an exciting and vibrant Tri-Nations tournament.”

Tri-Nations Fixtures
October 31: Australia v New Zealand (ANZ Stadium, Sydney)
November 7: Australia v New Zealand (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
November 14: New Zealand v Argentina (Bankwest Stadium, Sydney)
November 21: Argentina v Australia (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle)
November 28: Argentina v New Zealand (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle)
December 5: Australia v Argentina (Bankwest Stadium, Sydney)

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