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Should South Africa join the Six Nations at Italy's expense?

There could be change ahead with SA Rugby aligning itself to the Northern Hemisphere.

South Africa celebrate their Lions series win.
South Africa celebrate their Lions series win.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

SOUTH AFRICAN RUGBY has been aligning itself more and more with the Northern Hemisphere in recent times, with their leading franchises now part of the United Rugby Championship.

The South African club sides will be playing in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup from next season too, while the prospect of the Springboks joining the Six Nations remains very real.

The rugby world is abuzz with this topic again following a report from the UK’s Daily Mail that Springboks could join as soon as 2025 and perhaps even at the expense of Italy in a move being driven by private investors CVC.

The subject was up for discussion on today’s edition of The42 Rugby Weekly podcast with Gavan Casey, Bernard Jackman, and Murray Kinsella.

Gavan: “This broke late last night so we haven’t had a chance to discuss it among ourselves lads, so what are your initial thoughts on that prospect?”

Murray: “It caused me a sleepless night worrying about Italian rugby being on the outside! Listen, if South Africa joined in place of Italy, it would instantly make the Six Nations far more riveting and far more lucrative, which is the key point here.

“CVC are reportedly the ones massively behind this. We know that they’re in rugby for as quick a financial gain as they can possibly make and this is absolutely one way to ensure so.

“You get that South African market in, instantly every game is bigger, there’s the fascination from around the rest of the world, and you’re going to make more money.

“However, what is the long-term damage? We’ve spoken about it several times on this podcast about growing the game, broadening horizons, having more nations who are competitive and actually in the mix rather than this closed shop of the traditional old boys. This would be a way of doubling down on that reality in rugby, I think it would be really damaging.

“I just hope that Italy or other European nations are part of the plan moving forward. As far as I can remember, the CVC deal with the Six Nations was for five years up until 2026 and so I’m not sure how Italy are going to go along with this (being a 1/7th partner in the Six Nations).

federico-ruzza-dejected-after-conceding-their-third-try Italy haven't won a Six Nations game since 2015. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

“Obviously all the unions are concerned with making more money given the losses in the game over the last two years.

“The other concern I would have is the Rugby Championship. Without the Boks, what is it? The rivalry between them and the All Blacks is part of the fascination of that product and they’d be in trouble in that neck of the woods without the Boks.

“So while it would be a better Six Nations in terms of competition with the Boks in there, I’d definitely have concerns around the rest of it.”

Gavan: “Berch, can I go off on one here and see if my thoughts tally with yours? 

“Firstly, you kill the professional game in Italy. It’s done at that point. You can talk about contingency plans and secondary tournaments all you want but ultimately you’re pointing the gun at them. At that point, I don’t get what the last 20 years has been about.

“As Murray says, it adds something to the Six Nations but it’s fixing a problem that doesn’t exist in my mind. Italy can be seen as the problem child but the existing product is brilliant, we all absolutely love it.

“South Africa would make it better and obviously there are finances involved but I don’t think it’s something that anyone is crying out for. 

“It kills the Rugby Championship. That becomes like a Leinster Championship – no point in it. It also takes away a lot of prestige from the World Cup because it’s suddenly just about whether any of the new Six Nations can beat New Zealand.

“So rugby just makes a deal with the devil. I understand the financial constraints that rugby finds itself in but ultimately, it feels like short-term thinking and really damaging.”

jean-kleyn-after-scoring-his-sides-second-try The South African clubs have already aligned with the Northern Hemisphere. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Bernard: “I agree with you but I think the problem now is that the private equity guys are going to look to maximise their return on investment.

“I think the concerns you have just flagged there will be pushed to the side.

“What the other nations will do is that if the deal is good enough, the other nations will say, ‘Right, financially to grow the game in our own countries, we will drive that money into player development, etc.’

“I think Italy are on very dodgy grounds at the moment and it’s very worrying.”

Meanwhile, today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly also saw the lads discussing Ireland’s defeat to France last weekend, whether Joey Carbery’s performance has been overrated, what their best second row pairing is, and that penalty decision.

There was also time to look ahead to a busy weekend of URC action for the four Irish provinces.

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Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Gavan Casey is joined by Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella to discuss the prospect of South Africa replacing Italy in the Six Nations and reflect on Ireland’s performance in Paris, before looking ahead to the URC action this weekend.

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