On the 17th of February, reports emerged that South Africa were on the brink of joining the Six Nations rugby tournament, which has historically always been an all-European affair. The Springboks’ potential admission would come at the cost of Italy’s omission. This, of course, put the cat among the pigeons and drew the ire of the shell-shocked Italians.
Although you could argue that in some respects, Italy has made a rod for their own backs having not shown any signs of improvement after going seven years without a win in the competition. Furthermore, the most recent rugby odds from Betfair price the Italians at 500/1 to win the 2022 Six Nations tournament, which should tell you everything you need to know about how competitive the nation currently is.
In other words, their position in the competition has looked increasingly vulnerable after years of disastrous results. So, you can understand to a certain degree why the powers that be might be looking for new ways of bringing in more revenue by dumping the Italians out. At least, their games bring in such a low TV audience given how likely they are to lose that all options are on the table with regards to generating a spike in broadcasting figures. Indeed, England’s recent 33-0 win over Italy was another example of how one-sided their games are and in reality, you can’t blame the Six Nations hierarchy for exploring these somewhat controversial options.
However, inviting the Springboks to join the competition at the expense of the Italians is a bad idea given how fractious the South African Rugby Union’s relationships are with their southern hemisphere neighbors. In particular, SARU has fallen out spectacularly with the New Zealand and Australian rugby governing bodies. SARU seems to be making decisions that are designed to spite them rather than bolster the long-term interests of a new global tournament.
67% – In the Six Nations era (since 2000), South Africa have played 96 matches against England/France/Ireland/Scotland/Wales, winning exactly two thirds of those fixtures (W64, D2, L30). Contenders. pic.twitter.com/sYLltGG6Qc
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 17, 2022
Quite simply, SARU isn’t, at the moment, a reliable partner to invite to the table to begin a long-term working relationship due to their volatility towards New Zealand and Australia. The Six Nations organizers are for now, right to give this idea a wide berth or at least park the notion until the SARU know what they really want.
❓Betraying tradition or raising standards?
🏉 South Africa are looking to join the #SixNations, potentially from 2025, as part of a radical overhaul of international rugby
Our @TelegraphRugby writers argue for and against South Africa’s inclusion 👇🧵https://t.co/HHPZ52ZGPr pic.twitter.com/tvpcJkMjYa
— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) February 17, 2022
After all, it is entirely possible that SARU patch up their differences with New Zealand and Australia and then look to return to the old days of the Rugby Championship. Should this incredibly likely eventuality take place after Italy is given notice to leave, then the entire structure of the Six Nations could be damaged beyond repair. This isn’t to say that the current Six Nations format isn’t in need of a shake-up of sorts. But right now, there are too many parties at the table with insincere agendas to formulate a captivating new tournament that will enjoy a long and successful future.
Essentially, there is also something that doesn’t feel quite right about the South Africans joining this tournament that has, historically, always looked to crown the best European teams at the start of every year. In a few years’ time, there is every likelihood that the South Africans will also look back on this idea and admit that it was a bit forced and unnatural. Whatever ends up happening, for now, every respective rugby union needs to go away and think clearly about the way ahead.