South Africa’s push to join Six Nations could shift world rugby towards a more aligned season

South Africa’s push to join Six Nations could shift world rugby towards a more aligned season
The Springboks against England could be a regular sight in a revamped Six Nations from 2024 if SA Rugby's dream is realised. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Buoyed by Bok success, SA Rugby’s move to the northern hemisphere is gathering momentum.

The Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers have successfully migrated to the United Rugby Championship (URC), and are jousting for an opportunity to compete in the European Champions Cup – the top club tournament in world rugby.

Behind the scenes, SA Rugby continues to lobby for the Springboks’ inclusion in a revamped Six Nations. South Africa are expected to join the world’s oldest international tournament after the 2023 World Cup – a move that could signal the sport’s shift towards a more aligned season.

Come 2024, South Africa’s pivot to the northern hemisphere may be complete, with the top teams competing in Europe’s elite tournaments, and with SA Rugby reaping the financial benefits.

Although nothing will be confirmed until the relevant broadcast and commercial deals have been finalised, plans to welcome the Boks to the Six Nations table are already at an advanced stage.

Speculation and debate about the future of the Six Nations precedes every edition of the European showpiece. Does the tournament need a promotion-relegation element? Do Italy deserve a permanent place at that top table after losing 32 consecutive Six Nations games, and is it time to welcome a burgeoning rugby nation like Georgia?

Surely the Boks, as three-time world champions, would add more value than Italy or Georgia across the board?

These are not new questions. In 2022, however, these debates need to be viewed in a different context now that the South Africans are officially part of the northern hemisphere rugby structures.

In 2023, at least one of the local franchises will participate in the Champions Cup for the first time. And in 2024, as the game begins to grow and expand, the Boks should be part of a revamped Six Nations.

Longitude to determine regions

CVC Capital Partners bought a 14.3% stake in the Six Nations – valued at £365-million (R7.5-billion) – in 2021. The private equity firm has also acquired shares in the English Premiership and URC tournaments.

SA Rugby is close to completing an equity stake sale to CVC, understood to be worth billions in rand terms thanks to the Springboks’ status as world champions and the No 1-ranked team.

Like the teams that comprise the Six Nations, SA Rugby may benefit from a substantial financial boost over the next few years. Ties with those northern unions may be strengthened, and the Boks’ pathway to the Six Nations tournament may be cleared.

Two separate sources have confirmed that SA Rugby is determined to take all of its top teams to Europe. One insider predicted that the top rugby nations will be divided along longitudinal lines after the 2023 World Cup.

The Boks will compete alongside the top northern nations in a revamped Six Nations, whereas the South African franchises and major clubs from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales will continue to feature in the elite European competitions.

The picture will look very different in the eastern hemisphere. New Zealand and Australia have already welcomed a few Pacific island franchises – Moana Pasifika and Fiji Drua – to an expanded tournament that has been aptly dubbed “Super Rugby Pacific”. Plans to include Japan and Fiji in a revamped Rugby Championship have also been tabled.

Although competing in tournaments such as the URC, and in difficult European conditions, has tested the South African franchises, the coaches and players are happier with an arrangement that allows them to reach an overseas destination in about 12 hours.

Consider what they were exposed to in the latter days of the Super Rugby tournament. Players traversed multiple time zones to play in Argentina, Asia and Australasia, and the resultant jet-lag affected performances and results. The present arrangement in the URC suits the South African franchises far better.

Down the line, we could see the Boks taking an overnight flight to Europe and spending two to three weeks in the northern hemisphere during the Six Nations.

That would be preferable to the previous touring arrangement in the Rugby Championship, where the Boks were asked to fly from South Africa to Argentina, Argentina to South Africa, South Africa to Australasia, and then from Australasia to South Africa in under four weeks.

Boks-All Blacks rivalry

The expansion of the Six Nations does raise important questions about the future of the Rugby Championship, and indeed the annual double-header between South Africa and New Zealand.

As things stand, the Boks remain committed to the Rugby Championship in the immediate future. Some have even suggested the team could fulfil their obligations in the Six Nations as well as the Rugby Championship during a calendar year.

The two annual Tests between the Boks and the All Blacks remain a massive commercial drawcard. South African coaches and players consider these games to be the ultimate challenge, and many of their New Zealand counterparts feel the same way.

Rugby would be poorer if these teams – currently ranked No 1 and 2 in the world – met less frequently.

In the event of South Africa withdrawing from the Rugby Championship, there’s a possibility that these two teams will meet in a miniseries or tour annually. But as rugby moves towards finalising a global season, it remains to be seen where exactly these alternating home-and-away tours will slot into the schedule.

Global season is overdue

Many players have spoken out about the unsustainable amount of rugby that is played nowadays, as well as the lack of alignment between the Test and club games.

The northern and southern hemispheres are also under pressure to agree on a single-season structure. Either the north has to follow the south’s schedule, which typically runs from February to November, or the south has to move towards the European model, which stretches from August to June the following year.

One option that has reportedly been discussed is the alignment of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship tournaments in one international window, albeit in a slightly later time slot.

There’s also been a call for a clear separation between the club and Test seasons, as well as dedicated periods for pre-season conditioning and post-season rest.

A more aligned and structured season would eradicate many of the problems that plague the game – such as the conflict between club and country – and address the concerns about player welfare. Ultimately, it should boost the quality of rugby on display, as well as various commercial interests.

South Africa have taken a few significant steps into the northern hemisphere in the past four months. By joining the Six Nations, the Boks will take a giant leap for rugby in this country, and perhaps this move will initiate a global change that is long overdue. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


[hearken id=”daily-maverick/9041″]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

home delivery

Say hello to DM168 home delivery

Get your favourite newspaper delivered to your doorstep every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.

Get DM168 delivered to your door

Subscribe to DM168 home delivery and get your favourite newspaper delivered every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.

Subscribe Now→

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.