SA Rugby hold out hope of Springboks Tests in 2020

by AFP

South Africa Rugby says it hopes the world champion Springboks can play this year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

"SA Rugby continue to work with all stakeholders on the prospects of a return to play for the Springboks at some point this year," a statement said.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will hold an online press conference on July 21 and is expected to release plans for domestic and international rugby.

There has been no rugby in the country since March 14 when the table-topping Coastal Sharks defeated the Western Stormers in round seven of Super Rugby.

South Africa's Super Rugby franchises will be allowed to start training next week, as they take a step closer to a return to the playing field after a frustrating four months.

"This is an important first step back to playing, and we have taken it carefully to ensure full compliance and having thoroughly interrogated the regulations with government," Roux said in a statement.

"Contact training will not be permitted for the moment but the players will be allowed back onto the field with a rugby ball and back into the gym – while observing strict protocols in both areas – which comes as a great relief to the sport."

Only the eight teams that are likely to feature in a domestic competition later this year will train – Super Rugby franchises the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, PRO14 teams Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs, and provincial Currie Cup outfits Griquas and Pumas.

The statement confirmed that all club and schools rugby remains prohibited, and expressed doubt that the Springboks will host international tours in 2020, saying it was "unlikely that air corridors would be opened to allow international travel".

That opens up the possibility that the Boks' first matches since they lifted the World Cup trophy in Japan last year could be the British & Irish Lions tour in July/August 2021.

South Africa had recorded 324,221 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, the sixth highest in the world, with 4,453 deaths.

Roux said various formats were being discussed for domestic competitions because it was unlikely that air corridors would be open soon enough to enable the teams to play in international competitions such as Super Rugby and Pro 14.

He said all other rugby not involving the eight teams had been cancelled for the 2020 season.

The Springboks had to cancel three home Tests, two against Scotland and one against Georgia, this month due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The other home fixtures for the Springboks, against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship during August and September, have not been officially cancelled.