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Boks will not join Six Nations by 2024

Boks will not join Six Nations by 2024
England head coach Eddie Jones, left, shakes hands with South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus. Jones has warned that expansion of the Six Nations could lead to an erosion of the product. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

There is zero chance of the Springboks joining the Six Nations in 2024 as reported by a British newspaper on Saturday. But the notion of strengthening ties with Europe is one that SA Rugby has been working towards for years.

The Springboks taking on England at Ellis Park in February certainly has appeal, especially for the accountants at SA Rugby and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) respectively. But before that could happen, the wheeling and dealing needed to turn it into a reality would make delegates at a used car convention blanche.

South Africa, along with its southern hemisphere partners New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar), concluded terms for a new five-year broadcast deal in Sydney last week. That has locked South Africa into a partnership in Sanzaar until at least 2025.

Any changes to the nature of the alliance could only occur in 2026 and even then it remains unlikely that the Springboks will be competing in an expanded Six Nations.

Despite the tone of the Daily Mail article that implied it was a done deal that South Africa would play in the Six Nations in 2024, Daily Maverick’s sources confirmed that this was simply untrue.

On the record, SA Rugby said it wasn’t in the business of commenting on rumours and speculation, while New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Chief Executive Mark Robinson quickly came out and rubbished the claim.

“Like us, they’ve (South Africa) signed agreements with their broadcasters through 2025 to be involved with Sanzaar,” Robinson told New Zealand’s Radio Sport. “Our broadcast deal is from 2021 to 2025. SA are in the same space.

“We’re committed to the international calendar we have that we’re working through in our domestic and our cross-water competitions.

“There will be opportunities for them to review certain things within that but overall they’ve got that commitment.”

There is no doubt that SA Rugby would consider it a win if the Springboks could ultimately play both the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship. The commercial benefits of that arrangement would be massive.

SA Rugby, through the participation of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings in Pro 14, the European-based league featuring teams from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy, already has a presence in the northern hemisphere.

There is appetite from other South African franchises such as the Bulls and Sharks to compete in Europe as well. Ideally South Africa would like to have a strong presence in both competitions.

When the Kings and Cheetahs were presented as Pro 14 teams in August 2017, SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux hinted then that more changes were coming. But he was also adamant they would not come at the full expense of Sanzaar.

“We are committed to Sanzaar and we have an agreement until 2020,” Roux said at that time. “We are going into a negotiation period for the next phase and we will make decisions then.

“However, we believe we are strong because we play against New Zealand and Australia all the time. That relationship has been to the great benefit of SA rugby for more than 20 years.

“They are our partners and we don’t foresee not playing against New Zealand and Australia in the future, but what we do have is an opportunity to expand our competitions and horizons and we are trying to take that opportunity.

“We might come out with a different structure in the future, but not playing in the south in any shape or form is unthinkable because financially we would suffer.”

It was a clear hint then that the Super Rugby level was where South Africa was looking to make changes. In light of the stories that have surfaced in the last few days, nothing has really changed. SA Rugby wants more provincial teams in Pro 14 and ultimately the European Champions Cup (the Champions League equivalent of northern hemisphere rugby), but it wants to stay in the Rugby Championship.

If the Boks were to enter an expanded Six Nations at some stage in the future, it would work in terms of scheduling. That tournament is played in February and March while the Rugby Championship only takes place in August through to October.

The Boks could play six Tests in each tournament as well as a few more Tests in either June or November. Logistically playing in the Six Nations is easy, and the players would appreciate a less daunting travel schedule.

But it’s all conjecture as Six Nations have not seriously entertained the idea. England coach Eddie Jones warned that expansion of the Six Nations could lead to an erosion of the product. He saw first-hand how Super Rugby lost supporters and interest when it moved to 18 teams from its original 12.

“It (the Six Nations) is called the greatest rugby tournament in the world and I think it is,” said Jones after England beat Scotland 13-6 in the 2020 edition of the tournament on 8 February.

“So why would you want to add other teams that are going to decrease the level of competition? I can only talk from experience. Super Rugby was the golden egg of rugby – brilliant, 12 teams, competitive. As soon as it had gone to 14 and 15, it had lost its allure.

“You want the best teams playing against each other. There’s something about the Six Nations – because of the history of the relationships between the nations, it makes it more outstanding.”

The commercial and emotional value of the Springboks playing against the All Blacks annually, which is the biggest game in rugby, is one SA Rugby will not easily give up. Six Nations is appealing but it won’t come at the expense of annual matches against the All Blacks. DM

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