South Africa absent a problem for Wallabies, All Blacks

The message was pretty clear. Had NZ Rugby not moved on without South Africa, the likelihood of the Springboks joining the Six Nations would be dramatically lower than they are now. (For their part, NZ Rugby has always framed its decision on Super Rugby as COVID-driven, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.)

And, let’s be clear on another thing – if the Springboks were to join the Six Nations, it would be a nightmare for Australia and New Zealand, effectively establishing a two-tier test structure with the Wallabies and All Blacks on the lower rung.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg is one player who has returned to South Africa since his nation linked up with the northern hemisphere.Credit:Getty

The Super Rugby door for South Africa should therefore never be closed. In terms of high performance, there is also a case. Granted, South Africa has well documented issues with player drain, but the Sharks were leading Super Rugby before it was canceled in 2020. Since then, the Durban franchise has also gone on a huge recruitment drive after securing private investment, bringing back players like Eben Etzebeth (Toulon) and Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Sale).

And, the domestic production line has not ceased. Anyone who has watched the Stormers’ No.8 Evan Roos in the United Rugby Championship is bearing witness to the sort of big, aggressive, athletic forward that for many years improved Australian and New Zealand opponents. Stylistically, the South Africans represent a challenge that Super Rugby Pacific cannot provide.

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Of course, the horse may have already bolted. After a wobbly start, the South African teams have taken to the United Rugby Championship – where they are committed to until 2025, at least – and that tournament also provides them with a pathway to the big prize – spots in the European Champions Cup where potential clashes with the Toulouses of this world are on offer. They might demand a high price to return to Super Rugby.

But it is worth considering. The current competition window can certainly accommodate them. Strip out the ‘extra’ three games each club currently plays during the uneven regular season, and go straight to the semi-finals instead of an eight-team finals series. Make it a genuine round-robin and reward only the top four sides.

As COVID begins to recede, closed borders are moving into the rear-view mirror. And, as far as South Africa is concerned, it’s a case of absence making this heart grow fonder.

Watch every match of the Super Rugby Pacific on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Continues this weekend with Brumbies v Crusaders (Friday 7:15pm AEST), Blues v Reds (Saturday 4:30pm AEST) and Waratahs v Hurricanes (Saturday 7:15pm AEST). All streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport.

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