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Sport

Collateral damage: Boks lament COVID impact after Championship withdrawal

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Player welfare concerns, unclear COVID-19 restrictions and potential difficulties in securing overseas-based players were the key factors in pulling the Springboks out of this year’s Rugby Championship, South Africa Rugby said on Friday.

The world champions will go the course of 2020 without playing a test after withdrawing from the competition in Australia, which is now a tri-series between the hosts, New Zealand and Argentina.

Top of the list of concerns was a lack of game-time for players, with the South African domestic season only kicking off this past weekend after 29 weeks without competitive action.

“We worked out that the players needed a minimum of 400 minutes of game-time before they could be ready for a test match,” director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said in a statement.

“The overseas-based players had started playing before us and they would have been getting close to that.

“But many of those have had COVID outbreaks (at their clubs) which has interrupted the planning. The Japan-based players haven’t played any rugby at all.”

SA Rugby Chief Executive Jurie Roux also pointed to the complexities of securing the 24 overseas-based players that had been in line for selection.

“Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories,” he said.

“It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia.”

With the bulk of their World Cup winning squad now based at clubs outside of South Africa, Roux says their absence would have left a shadow squad in Australia.

“The impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to being able to compete,” he added.

There was also a lack of clarity as to whether players would have been allowed to leave South Africa’s shores as current COVID-19 protocols stipulate that national teams may not take part in international competitions abroad.

The financial fall-out from the decision to withdraw will be dire for SA Rugby, who have already asked players and staff to take pay-cuts in a year when they are reducing costs by R1.2-billion ($72.14 million).

“It seems impossible that the Springboks won’t play a test in 2020, but public health and safety have been the primary concern and we have been collateral damage like so many businesses,” Roux said.

“All we can do now is enjoy our domestic competitions and find ways to be ready for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions in (July) 2021.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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