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Full Springbok and All Black tours set to resume by 2026 after positive talks

Full Springbok and All Black tours set to resume by 2026 after positive talks
Boks line up to face the New Zealand players performing The Haka during the Rugby World Cup 2023 final between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on 28 October 2023 in Paris. (Photo: Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

There is work to be done yet, but the Springboks and All Blacks could resume major sporting tours to each country from as early as 2026.

One of the seminal images in the history of rugby is one of All Black skipper Sean Fitzpatrick on his knees, punching the Loftus Versfeld turf in elation. 

His 1996 All Blacks had spent the final three minutes of the second Test camped on their tryline, holding off waves of Springbok attacks. The Boks needed a try and a conversion to win, and to keep the three-match series alive having lost the first Test by 23-19 in Durban.

But Fitzpatrick and his men, by hook and crook, held firm. And when the final whistle blew to give the All Blacks a 33-26 victory and with it an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, New Zealand players were sprawled across the ground after such a monumental effort and achievement. 

They were too exhausted to celebrate at that moment. They had just become the first All Black team to win a series in South Africa (SA) in 68 years of trying. They remain the first and last New Zealand team to win an away series against the Boks.

“When you think about not only the fantastic rivalry between the All Blacks and Springboks, but the wider connection around midweek games and the ability to get right around the country, that’s something that brings the country, here and in South Africa, alive.” — Mark Robinson

Why is this significant? Because tours between the Springboks and All Blacks could resume as soon as 2026, which would include a three-Test series and midweek games.

Richie Mo’unga of New Zealand is double-tackled by Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen of South Africa in a match between the All Blacks and South Africa at Twickenham on 25 August 2023 in London. (Photo: Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

Talks about ‘exciting new addition’ 

South African Rugby Union (Saru) chief executive Rian Oberholzer, who is currently in London for meetings with World Rugby and SA, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby (Sanzaar), confirmed to Daily Maverick that talks were advanced.

The initial plan is for the Boks to host a three-Test tour, including provincial games, by New Zealand in 2026. New Zealand would host the Boks in 2030, with the tours alternating on a four-yearly cycle. 

“The conversation has progressed well, but there’s work still to be done,” Oberholzer said. 

“We’re talking about an exciting new addition to the calendar, which would thrill our fans, I’m sure — as well as rugby fans around the world.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa delivers the pièce de résistance of Rugby World Cup in historic victory over New Zealand 

While Oberholzer was coy, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) counterpart Mark Robinson was far more forthright. 

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald’s Rugby Direct podcast last week, Robinson gave more details about the possibility of a return to tours between rugby’s two great Superpowers.

Victorious All Black Captain Sean Fitzpatrick (right) and Coach John Hart show off the Silverware as they make their way up Auckland’s Queen St. The All Blacks were welcomed back from South Africa by thousands of fans to celebrate their series win over the Springboks in 1996. (Photo: Kenny Rodger/Getty Images)

Details being ironed out

The details are still being ironed out because it will impact the annual Rugby Championship, which is Sanzaar’s largest revenue-earner. These possible tours will also have to work around British & Irish Lions tours (they are set to visit New Zealand in 2029, and SA in 2033) and the Rugby World Cup.

“There’s been talk around All Blacks and Springboks tours. We’re continuing to talk about those opportunities,” Robinson said on the Podcast. 

“That was part of the conversations we had last week (mid-February) in Sydney. It potentially has some impact around the nature of what a traditional Rugby Championship looks like, so how do we work through with all the partners involved to make sure something like that can be an additive for all the teams across the Sanzaar joint venture. 

“It’s definitely something that’s on the radar with regards to expansion of the game. There’s a bit more work to do at this stage.”

NZR has a multi-billion rand equity deal in place, and Saru is on the brink of concluding its own equity deal with American consortium Ackerley Sports Group. 

Mandate to grow viewer value

Part of the mandate of an equity stake in a brand such as the Springboks and All Blacks, is to grow value. And few, if any, events in the sport of rugby would appeal to fans, broadcasters and sponsors as much as a full-blown tour between rugby’s two greatest nations.

Currently the Boks and All Blacks host each other for two Tests every second year as part of the Rugby Championship. But returning to longer tours would be a return to the amateur era, when full-blown tours gathered their own momentum and built their own narratives.

Midweek games featuring provincial teams against either the Boks or All Blacks, staffed with players unlikely to participate in Tests, having a chance to play against an international team, is part of the mystique.

“I think it’s what the fans want. That understanding with what really connects with fans, and what gets them super excited,” Robinson said. 

“When you think about not only the fantastic rivalry between the All Blacks and Springboks, but the wider connection around midweek games and the ability to get right around the country, that’s something that brings the country, here and in South Africa, alive. A lot of thought goes into that.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Brutal Boks hand All Blacks heaviest ever Test defeat at Twickenham to make RWC statement 

“One-off matches are great but if you can bring an extended period of real excitement, right across the country, they’re moments rugby wants to be involved in. 

“We talk a lot about how we can inspire and unify the country, well, I don’t think you get better moments than those sorts of opportunities to do that.” 

Bok flank Ruben Kruger is tackled during the first Test of the All Blacks’ 1996 tour to South Africa. The Boks lost the opening Test in Durban by 23-19 as the All Blacks recorded their one and only series win in South Africa. (Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Thawing of relations

This signals a distinct thawing of relations between Saru and NZR, which were strained when the Kiwis abruptly and unilaterally declared they were exiting Super Rugby at the height of the Covid pandemic in mid-2020. 

That pushed Saru (quite willingly) and South African rugby north at provincial level, which resulted in the establishment of the United Rugby Championship (URC), and entry for the top teams into the European Champions and Challenge Cups.

South Africa has benefited with strong competition for its four major teams and European exposure. 

New Zealand rugby has dominated the revamped Super Rugby Pacific as its clubs dominate teams from Australia, Fiji and Samoa. 

“Going back a few years, that relationship (with Saru) was challenged for a wee bit, but over the last couple of years there has been great work. We’ve had great dialogue with them in recent times,” Robinson said. 

“There’s different talk between us both, not just at international level but age-grade development, about how we see the opportunity to connect and let players experience the great rivalry.”

With global rugby struggling to grow outside of its traditional bases, this decision by Saru and NZR to work towards resurrecting old-style tours, makes sense.

The All Blacks and the Springboks are the two most successful rugby nations on earth. They have won seven of the 10 Rugby World Cups staged so far.

Fierce rivalry and commercial partners

They enjoy a fierce rivalry going back more than a century and have been commercial partners in Sanzaar for nearly 30 years. 

Of course Robinson and Oberholzer were careful with how much they revealed, because these discussions are only for tours between New Zealand and South Africa.

There is no room for Australia and Argentina in this plan. It could lead to resentment and tension from Sydney and Buenos Aires.

But with the current Sanzaar broadcast deal ending in 2025, from 2026 onwards there is some scope for expansion.

It’s no secret that the Boks wanted to be included in an expanded Six Nations as part of South Africa’s integration to the northern hemisphere, but that will not happen for the foreseeable future. 

Which is why there is a push to renew tours with New Zealand. It is a logical rugby move and also of potentially massive commercial value, which will sweeten the deal when Sanzaar tries to sell its “products” for another five or 10 years, from 2026 onwards. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    The sooner they dump that ridiculous Rugby ‘Championship’ the better. Tours sound fair enough, but frankly, why should SARU have to save the crooked and selfish NZRU? Let them stew in their own juice and go play rugby league if they’re that worried about their so-called ‘running rugby’! Five tackles, kick. Five tackles, kick ad nauseam.

    • Grant S says:

      Excellent work. You’ve done well to show disgust for a game that isn’t in any way related to the article. SARU is doing well since joining forces with the North, be happy. Proper tours (tests and provincial encounters) between South Africa and New Zealand is potentially a great thing. Let’s hope it works out to be mutually beneficial.

    • Steve Chiaberta says:

      I hear you. I’m also still amazed at how arrogant and selfish NZ’s unilateral actions were. Hypocritical too, given how they’ve often accused SA of arrogance. But I think tours would be fantastic for us. If they benefit NZ in the process, that’s fine because we – and rugby – needs the rivalry to keep thriving, and tours should do that better than the current set up. Tours are what established the rivalry in the first place.

  • Sarel Seemonster says:

    The new global rugby competition, as proclaimed by World Rugby, is supposed to start in 2026. This would require the Rugby Championship to be expanded by adding 2 teams. How will expanded tours between NZ and SA be able to fit into that schedule?

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