The South African government has given SA Rugby the green light to return to the playing field, with the governing body targeting September for the resumption of matches in what will reportedly be a revamped Currie Cup tournament.

While southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand and Australia have returned to action, South African rugby has been forced to kick its heels. New Zealand has blazed a trail for safely returning fans to sports venues with its Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament, and Rugby Australia has also hosted its own domestic Super Rugby competition.

Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Minister for Sports, Arts and Culture, has announced that SA Rugby can return to competitive action subject to compliance with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The directions stipulate that contact training, and matches can be played in empty stadiums, with only limited people allowed to attend games as part of essential services to make these events possible and from within a “bio safe environment”.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have been working hard at ensuring we get back on the field and we’ve kept the government informed on our plans throughout the process,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux (pictured).

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to move to the next phase of our return-to-play plans and will provide the department with all the necessary information required, such as venues for matches, to ensure a smooth transition to competitive rugby.

“At this stage, we hope to have our first matches by early to mid-September and our plans on the structure of the planned competition will be announced in due course, as we have various options to consider.”

Local media reports suggest an eight-team Currie Cup, the country’s premier domestic competition, could be held from September through to mid-December. The IOL.co.za website said the tournament will include the four Super Rugby franchises – Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers; Pro14 teams the Cheetahs and Southern Kings; plus domestic clubs Griquas and Pumas.

The Springboks have not been able to return to action since lifting the World Cup trophy in Japan last year. World Rugby last month announced a new 2020 calendar for international matches during COVID-19.

A temporary window for the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship has been proposed for November 7 to the second weekend of December. With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact transcontinental travel and entry requirements, on an exceptional basis the 2020 Rugby Championship will take place over a reduced six-week period between November 7 and the second week in December.

SANZAAR, the organisation gathering the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, last month said New Zealand is the “favoured option” for a 2020 Rugby Championship held in one location.

Roux noted that a return to international competition is not permitted under the new government regulations, but added: “We know the World Rugby window for the Castle Lager Rugby Championship is only in November and December, so we’re hopeful that in due course the government will be in a position to further relax the restrictions.

“For now, it’s the most important to ensure we get the action underway as we have many stakeholders, such as our broadcast partner, competition and team sponsors and our supporters, who are keen to see some rugby again.”

Image: SA Rugby