South Africa’s switch to the Six Nations is still very much on, with talks continuing about the Springboks joining Europe’s showpiece tournament from 2025.
Despite Wednesday’s announcement that South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina have committed to the Southern Hemisphere’s annual Rugby Championship for three more years, it is understood the world champions’ union remain intent on realigning with the North.
Initially, it was thought that the move — which has profound implications for the global structure of the sport — would take place in 2024, shortly after the next World Cup.
Now, sources have indicated that the complexities of the arrangements mean the move will take effect 12 months later.
That means that the Boks would replace struggling Italy, which would enhance the competitiveness of the event but reduce any future prospect of participating unions agreeing to a model of promotion and relegation, without the safety net of the weaker Azzurri.
Asked last autumn about the option of expanding the tournament, Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said:
‘The Six Nations have added to and reduced its teams very few times in its 140 years, so it’s something we’d be very cautious about doing. We’re pretty happy with what we have, but we’re pretty sure it could be improved.’
It is understood that, behind the scenes, the private equity firm is acting as a driving force in promoting talks aimed at ensuring South Africa join the Six Nations. They are said to believe that significant commercial gains can be achieved only by fundamental upheaval and reform.
South African rugby has been gradually aligning with the North — shifting away from the traditional ties with Southern Hemisphere partners in very different time zones. Their provincial sides are now in the United Rugby Championship (URC) with Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian teams, and from next season they will take part in European tournaments.
The country has a deep-rooted rugby culture, providing commercial clout which has propped up the Sanzaar (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina) alliance for years.
Their ability to generate broadcast revenue was a major appeal to European unions, leading to the creation of the URC.
So with the seismic move by the Boks what will happen to the Rugby Championship? Will this mean that one of the Pacific Island powerhouses like Tonga, Samoa or Fiji will be joining the Tier one nations in the Championship? The future looks bright for Pacific Island rugby.