Impact of Springboks joining Six Nations
OPINION: The Springboks heading North will be great for South Africa.
But what about the Six Nations?
There have been loads of talk and debates around the prospect of the Springboks joining the Six Nations competition.
Over the past weeks, speculation has been floating around that South Africa could join the Northern Hemisphere tournament as the seventh team – ‘Seven Nations’.
The ‘developing’ tournament which will comprise of South Africa, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, is rumoured to kick-off after 2025 when SANZAAR’s current broadcast cycle deal expires.
For some pundits and even stars, like former Springboks and Stormer centre Jean de Villiers, the idea is innovative and certainly a good one that has the potential to boost rugby as a product.
Which is the goal for World Rugby.
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For South Africa Rugby joining an expanded Six Nations could be a great move.
First, the two-hours time difference will not only provide the South African audience with more attractive kick-off times but travelling to Europe rather than Australasia will be ideal for player welfare.
Secondly, playing in Europe will not be unfamiliar territory to SA Rugby, with two provincial teams in the form of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings already playing in the Pro14.
In addition to that, there is already a large number of elite South African players currently based at European clubs hence making the idea even more viable.
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With all that being said, on the other side of the spectrum, how will the move affect the Six Nations?
There are certainly some positives for the competition, like having a three-time World Cup champion will for sure be intriguing and will attract a new audience.
However, in the long run, how will it influence the current fanbase?
Many loyal Six Nations supporters, including England head coach Eddie Jones, have voiced their dissatisfaction with the idea.
The outspoken England coach stated that adding more teams would make the competition lose its allure, similar to Super Rugby.
In all fairness, Jones’ concerns are valid.
The Six Nations as a whole is not flawless. However, aside from the World Cup, it is the most prestigious international tournament and therefore tinkering with a winning format could dilute the value as a product.
SANZAAR made that mistake when they continuously revamped the Super Rugby competition resulting in a vast array of lopsided results and a decreased quality of competition.
The recent change has seen the competition move from 15 to 18 teams in 2016 and then back to 15 teams in 2018, while 2021 will see the Sunwolves cut and the competition returning to a 14-team format.
The Rugby Championship was not spared from SANZAAR’s creative formats as the introduction of Argentina in 2012 spelt the end of the highly regarded Tri-Nations. All these expansions was an effort to attract more interest from sponsors and fill up stadiums.
However, similar to Super Rugby, it seems like the Rugby Championship is facing loads of problems, while the Six Nations continues to gather lucrative interest as a brand.
The different Six Nations teams, in particular Italy, may not have the player tenacity or skill level compared to the South. However, when it comes to crowed attendance, thousands of supporters flock to Twickenham, Stade de France, Stadio Olimpico and others to watch matches.
It is something that has been gradually evaporating in SANZAAR’s competitions.
The travelling factor is another aspect that could have dire consequences for the Six Nations.
The current Six Nations teams are in very close proximity to each other with Scotland and Italy just over 2000 km apart. However, adding a trip to South Africa would be accompanied by a whole set of new logistical issues for players and fans.
In the end, SA Rugby sits with a huge decision that has the potential to be a great plan for South Africa.
However, for the Six Nations, opening the door to the South could have dreadful ramifications for the historic European competition.