BERNARD LAPORTE – the Vice-President of both the Six Nations and World Rugby, who is currently seeking re-election as Chairman of the French Rugby Federation – has told French newspaper Le Progrès that discussions are underway to bring World Champions South Africa into this Autumn’s ‘Eight Nations’ tournament, in place of Japan, who will not travel to Europe due to coronavirus issues.
That would mean Scotland playing last year’s World Cup winners at Murrayfield this Autumn, alongside France, and Italy away in their final pool match, before a play-off against the equivalently placed team in the opposite pool which will consist of England, Ireland, Wales and Fiji.
“The Japanese will not come to Europe. We are looking for a nation to replace them. We are in advanced talks with South Africa. It would be great to be able to face the Springboks, world champions, but it’s not yet done,” said Laporte. according to Le Progrès.
This move would be a snub to Georgia, the next best team in Europe behind the Six Nations sides, who are in desperate need of a platform to take their rugby development and finances to the next level.
It will also raise questions about the legitimacy of the official explanation given for the withdrawal of South African franchise the Toyota Cheetahs from the Guinness Pro14 last week, which stated that:
Due to on-going travel restrictions enforced by the South African government against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not foreseen that any cross-border Guinness PRO14 games involving South Africa teams will take place until 2021. PRO14 Rugby remains in discussion with SA Rugby on when South African participation in the league can resume in the new year.
The current South African Government travel advice is that: “All international passenger flights are prohibited, except those flights authorised by the Minister of Transport.”
South Africa is not currently on the list of countries which are exempted from 14-day self-isolation requirements after arrival in the UK.
To add extra intrigue to the situation, the prospect of both the existing South African franchises in the PRO14 being jettisoned from the competition, to create space for South Africa’s current Super Rugby teams – the Bulls, the Lions, the Sharks and the Stormers – in an expanded 16 team format, appears to be gaining significant traction.
It has been reported locally that South African federation chief executive Jurie Roux told a meeting of the organisation’s general council on Friday that a Super Rugby withdrawal is imminent. The door isn’t shut on running five teams out of South Africa, which would offer a reprieve to the Cheetahs, but four teams is an easier fit for the PRO14.