The Springboks storied rivalry with New Zealand has lost some of its mystique in recent years because the fixture simply happens far too often.
You can get too much of a good thing, and it might be the best thing for South African rugby if the Springboks cut the All Blacks out of their diet.
Springboks vs All Blacks overload
The Springboks and All Blacks have played at least two Test matches against one another every year since 1996. The 1995 Rugby World Cup final was the 42nd meeting between South African and New Zealand in Test rugby, there have now been 99 meetings.
Former All Black flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens recently suggested that Super Rugby would be better off without South African teams, citing timezone differences and travel as challenges for New Zealand rugby. Mehrtens looked at that issue purely from New Zealand’s point of view and didn’t suggest dropping the Boks from the Rugby Championship.
That might be because the Rugby Championship needs the Springboks more than the Boks need the Championship. If South Africa and Argentina withdraw from Super Rugby and the Championship, they would likely be replaced by Japan and Fiji, who could join the tournament anyway with plans in the works for 2022. The Rugby Championship would become a kind of Pacific Nations League Premier division. The withdrawal of the Springboks would take with it an enormous chunk of the tournament’s appeal.
The Springboks could be better off aligning themselves with the Six Nations, bringing their calendar into sync with European club rugby where so many of their players are now based.
Rugby bosses are desperate to shake things up as the sport competes for eyeballs in a hyper-competitive market and tries to get bums back in stadium seats.
The shakeup that would be best suited to South African rugby would see our game shift onto the path of least resistance.
Currie Cup reloaded
If South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises can’t find new opposition in the North, either in existing leagues or with a new arrangement, then the Currie Cup could be elevated to a renewed place of prominence.
It doesn’t seem practical for South Africa to continue to field four Super Rugby teams with the resources currently available. You could build an incredible squad with the list of players who have left South African Super Rugby teams between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, it remains to be seen what can be done with what is left.
We might not like giving up the great traditions of Southern Hemisphere competitions, but the health of the game in South Africa is at stake.
As a brand the Springboks could do with some distance from the All Blacks, who have leveraged familiarity into dominance, and keeping the old enemy at arm’s length could be the key to turning that around.
Test matches between the Springboks and the All Blacks are a big part of the fabric of World Rugby, but they would be elevated in stature if they happened less often.
After the magic of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the World Rugby bosses were set scrambling to try to find a way to make it happen more often, but that is a great way to ruin an incredible event.
Competing against the Six Nations sides would allow the Springboks to sharpen different areas of their game and perhaps become the dominant force in World Rugby. It is hard to see the Springboks maintaining sustained dominance at international level while competing in the Rugby Championship.
New Zealand and Australia are also suffering under the weight of a talent drain, with the game in Oz really not in great shape at all and if these trends continue Super Rugby and the Championship will diminish in value.
South Africa are in a position to expand upon an existing foothold in the North through the Cheetahs and Kings Pro14 participation and offset the problems faced when drawing international players from foreign bases.
Joining a reformatted Six Nations (Seven Nations) would mean that the Springboks could call on their foreign-based players during their international season without creating conflict with their clubs.
Adding the Springboks to the North’s major tournament would add blockbuster quality and possibly give South African rugby a significant shot in the arm.