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Super Rugby Unlocked and Springbok Showdown set for South African restart

SA Rugby has announced a restart plan for rugby union in South Africa that will involve the formation of a domestic Super Rugby competition and a Springbok Showdown.

The plan represents a complete re-working of fixtures and competition structures that has been forced by the six-month COVID-19 interruption. The South African government last month gave SA Rugby the green light to return to the playing field, with the governing body targeting September for the resumption of matches.

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, announced that SA Rugby could return to competitive action subject to compliance with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The directions stipulate 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”.

SA Rugby has now firmed up a four-month calendar. The local rugby season will resume on September 26 with a double-header at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, when the Bulls take on the Sharks, and the Lions face the Stormers on ‘Super Fan Saturday’. These matches will be followed by the Springbok Showdown at Newlands in Cape Town.

The Showdown will seek to pit the best local stars and up-and-coming talent against each other on October 3. The selection process will take the form of a draft pick from an enlarged squad of 60 players with Green and Gold team leaders selecting match-day squads of 25 players each.

Following these two events, the seven provincial teams will head into a double round of local action over 16 weekends to compete for Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup trophies. The first round of matches – from October 10 to November 21 – will be for Super Rugby Unlocked honours.

All points won will be carried forward into the second round – the Currie Cup from November 28 to January 9, 2021 – which will culminate in semi-finals and a final on January 23 next year. “We are very grateful for the excellent cooperation we’ve had from our sponsors, broadcast partner, the unions and other stakeholders to get to a point where we can actually start looking forward to actual rugby matches on weekends again,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby.

“Depending on our participation in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, we’ll see our top local Springboks in action in the coming weeks and months. The impact of the pandemic on the season has been extraordinary and we have had to come up with an extraordinary solution to be able to complete the Vodacom Super Rugby season and contest the Currie Cup. We believe that this is the best solution for everyone involved.”

The Springboks have not been able to return to action since lifting the World Cup trophy in Japan last year. Earlier this month, SANZAAR, the organisation gathering the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, decided that Australia will host the 2020 Rugby Championship (TRC) in November and December.

South Africa’s place in the tournament is not yet assured and will depend on international travel and other governmental restrictions, as well as player wellness and high performance considerations. “We’re still not in a position to confirm plans for the Springboks, but it remains our wish that they play Tests this year,” added Roux.

“It would not only be great to see the Rugby World Cup champions in action, but it would also give the Bok management valuable preparation for next year’s tour of the British & Irish Lions.”