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Thread: Crunch time for Rugby Championship

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    Crunch time for Rugby Championship

    Springbok crunch time for The Rugby Championship

    Wayne Smith, Rugby Union
    6:52PM October 8, 2020

    The Rugby Championship continues to dodge bullets but it is about to come under its most concentrated fire yet, with South Africa to determine by Saturday whether or not to send the Springboks to Australia for the 12-match tournament starting at the end of this month.

    There were sighs of relief all round yesterday when New Zealand agreed for its final meeting with Australia, scheduled for December 12, to be moved forward to October 31, to ensure the All Blacks would be able to spend Christmas Day with their families.

    “Petulant All Blacks score “first” win over Wallabies” was how one South African-based website announced the decision, leaving no one in any doubt as to who they felt were the villains in this tawdry trans-Tasman dispute.

    But having finally laid all the pantomime of this issue to rest, the SANZAAR partners now are bracing for what always loomed as the real and major impediment in the way of this unprecedented hub-style Rugby Championship – whether or not South Africa can or will compete.

    The problem exists on two levels, one medical, the other rugby pride.

    So far the South African Government has not given permission for the Springboks to leave the country, which is in a COVID-19 shutdown. For a country that has a population about two and a quarter times Australia, South African has had 685,155 cases and 17,248 deaths. Australia, by comparison, has had 27,206 cases and 897 deaths.

    Complicating the issue of whether the South African team should be allowed to travel is the growing problem of whether South African players based in Europe should also be given the all clear to come to Australia.

    The Sale Sharks, a club heavily populated by South Africans, this week recorded 27 positives among its players and backroom staff. It was supposed to have played the Worcester Warriors in its final Premiership match on the weekend, but the game was postponed after 16 players and three staff tested positive. A further test was arranged for Tuesday, on the understanding that a single positive would cause Sale to forfeit the match and any chance of playing in the finals. In fact, it wasn’t one person who tested positive but another eight.

    That is effectively half a club that has tested positive, with the other half having been exposed to the virus. Then there were the spin-offs. The last club that Sale actually played, Northampton, has subsequently returned three positive tests, causing their own game against Gloucester to be cancelled.

    Australian rugby officials admit they are aware of the deteriorating situation in Europe – where more than half the Springboks may be drawn from – but believe that the sophisticated biosecurity bubbles that have now become commonplace in Australian sport can handle the situation.

    The six asymptomatic Argentinian players who tested positive in South America in September, for instance, are now part of the Pumas squad that still has about 10 days of isolation to go inside a bubble at Parramatta.

    The South Africans, who last year won the Rugby World Cup for the third time – tying the New Zealanders’ performance – now also have to decide whether they will risk putting their prowess on the line when indications are that their players are underprepared. There is a very real chance that the All Blacks and even the Wallabies, who have both played domestic competitions, could take them down.

    Rugby only resumed in South Africa two weeks ago after a six-month COVID lockdown. There was initially a fan day involving four of the Super Rugby sides, followed the next weekend by a Springbok trial between the Green and Gold teams. Now Super Rugby Unlocked is due to start this weekend, but only two rounds will be possible before the Springboks team needs to be selected and sent to Australia. The latest the side can arrive is October 24, given that it must go into isolation for a fortnight before its opening TRC match against Argentina on November 7.

    New Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus – the World Cup-winning coach – believe the South African players need at least 500 minutes of match time to get them ready for Test football. At best, they would have only half of that.

    But the big incentive for South Africa, indeed for all the SANZAAR nations, is that they will not get to split up their share of the estimated $30 million worth of broadcast rights and other income if they do not all compete in Australia. When even the world champions are cash-strapped, it is easy to understand why countries such as Australia are desperate for the tournament to go ahead, no matter what the odds against it.

    Meanwhile, Argentina is still determining whether to go ahead with at least one practice match in Australia – be it against a Barbarians-style team made up of Shute Shield players or of a Wallabies-reduced NSW Waratahs side – after it clears quarantine.

    Wayne Smith
    Senior Sport Writer

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/spo...c591607ef3600a

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    You would have thought that the best place for any player who wasn't positive would be outside SA, not in it. Forcing them to remain would be little more than their government knowingly placing them at increased risk...

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