The world-cup winning South African rugby team have yet to play a match in front of their home crowd this year. The coronavirus outbreak has seen world rugby stopped in its tracks. Various international competitions such as Super Rugby, the Six Nations, the SuperSport Rugby challenge (old Tri-Nations) and even the World Sevens has been cancelled or postponed. Besides the income lost from salaries and sponsorships, a lot of money in the secondary rugby economy will also be lost. This not only affects provincial rugby in South Africa with its Curry Cup competition but also club-level rugby and school-boy rugby.
SA School-boy Rugby
In essence all South African schoolboy rugby has been stopped due to schools being closed. Big Easter tournaments such as the St Stithians festival and the Kearsney rugby festival have all been cancelled. This is the time where teams find their rhythm and team structures are finalised for league play for the rest of the season. For school first-team players who are mostly in their last year at school, this means that they are put at a disadvantage for tertiary-level or club rugby next year. Also potential rugby scholarships and bursaries will have to be re-considered due to the lack of playing in this season.
SA Super Rugby might fold
The Super Rugby competition between the southern hemisphere clubs have gone from a very prestigious competition in the early 2000s to a complicated quagmire in 2019. It now relies heavily on billion-dollar broadcasting contracts and full stadiums to sustain itself. It is true that with the Coronavirus lockdowns that the world faces that the competitions could be best put on hold if not cancelled, it is the underlying malaise in this competition that might end it for South Africa. Because of general player drain, it is not feasible to sustain six franchises resulting in uncompetitive teams being forced to partake.
What are the others doing?
The New Zealand Rugby Union was quick on the draw to start a review of its own Super Rugby future and the Kiwis are looking at an alternative competition structure. One of the factors to consider will be cost and time savings, therefore some old domestic competitions could be relaunched in New Zealand and Australia, followed by a trans-Tasman tournament in 2021. It will also be easier travel and time wise to eventually include other South Pacific nations such as Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, than to travel to South Africa and Argentina in such a demanding competition. This effectively excludes South Africa from any future competitions with Oceanian countries.
South Africa will have to look elsewhere to pay international rugby if New Zealand and Australia start doing their own competitions. Although it is easier to fly to Argentina than Oceania, South Africa is still pretty isolated in terms of heavy-weight opponents. Travel time to Europe is less but the European rugby schedule is already jam-packed with almost 30 teams playing in the European rugby leagues. Also, international rugby teams around Europe and the United Kingdom are more evenly matched than say an Australian team and a Japanese team so the impact of uncompetitive matches are not as prevalent in Europe.