The Six Nations is on a break week – something that would disappear if reported suggestions of South Africa’s inclusion ever came about. Robin Davey says the damaging knock-on effects outweigh any financial benefits.
The plan to bring South Africa into the current Six Nations tournament should be kicked into touch very firmly – or simply buried altogether.
The Six Nations is the world’s most popular rugby tournament and one of the finest in any sport, for that matter.
The decision to invite Italy into the then Five Nations tournament back in 2000 was a laudable one with the aim of trying to grow the game in a different part of Europe.
Nobody can claim it has been a complete success – the Italians regular whipping boys who haven’t even won a single game in the tournament for the past five years. They’ve enjoyed the occasional success, like beating Wales, but in terms of raising the competition levels, the experiment has been a failure.
But the point is Italy is a European team and the Six Nations is a European or northern hemisphere tournament.
Attempting to bring a southern hemisphere side into it, albeit the current world champions and therefore big crowd pullers, is a different matter altogether.
South Africa may be on a similar time zone, but such a decision would alter the whole equilibrium of the tournament and would have a drastic effect on the world game.
South Africa is part of the Rugby Championship involving New Zealand Australia and, more recently, Argentina.
How would that tournament be affected if it lost one of its founder and leading members? Pretty badly it has to be said.
As for the priceless Six Nations – and for the players, in particular – the damage would be incalculable.
The promoters of this daft idea appear to have little concern for player welfare, and that’s just for starters.
One draft itinerary for a proposed Seven Nations tournament visualises it taking place in a seven-week window, each team receiving only one week off.
That means teams with byes in the first and last weeks would have to play on six successive weekends while the ones with byes on the second and sixth weekends would have to play five weekends on the bounce.
That is clearly ridiculous and Johnny Sexton, among others, has described such an idea as potentially harmful if implemented.
And it would further impact on an already crowded season, fitting in alongside all the other domestic competitions.
A seventh international weekend would bring the organisers into direct conflict with the clubs who already have to release their players for internationals and training weeks.
The plan would have drawbacks on a wider front as well. How would it affect the autumn internationals? What would the outcome be for the Lions?
The presence of the South Africans would have damaging consequences for the autumn series which the home unions rely on heavily for finance to feed the game. The same applies for tours Down Under by the home countries during our summer months.
And it could mean the end for the Lions, still the most popular brand in the world game despite efforts by the English Premiership, in particular, to drastically reduce the length of their tours by refusing to release their players – or by insisting on finals to be played around departure date.
No South Africa on a Lions itinerary would leave just New Zealand and Australia for meaningful tours and would clearly put the Lions in jeopardy.
The plan does, of course, involve money. That’s what it’s all about, really. For attracting the global brand of South Africa would bring in extra revenue by appealing even more to television companies and sponsors with CVC, who already have a toe-hold in the game, likely to be extremely interested.
Now, no-one is pretending the present Six Nations is perfect – far from it despite its enduring appeal and popularity.
Sir Clive Woodward is, for example, advocating promotion and relegation with the opportunity for a team like Georgia to break in, and he’s by no means the first to suggest this.
He insists the Six Nations is a European competition and if it is to be expanded there has to be an opportunity for a European team like Spain.
The problem is, of course, the Six Nations is a cartel and not one of the members is prepared to risk being relegated because it could spell financial ruin for that country, both at international and domestic level.
Scotland is consistently the worst performing of the traditional nations and would be in peril if a promotion and relegation system was introduced.
We need a complete rethink of world rugby, but South Africa to the Six Nations is not that
We need to find roles for USA, Japan, Fiji and Georgia
We need to stop rugby from dying in Australia
We need to strengthen Italy and Argentina
We need to continue to develop new nations
— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) February 8, 2020
What would it mean for their game at every level, and what dent would it put in the salary of the highest paid of all the chief executives, said to be on over £900,000 a year?
There may well be room for improvement in the Six Nations, but it remains one of the most popular tournaments in world sport, regularly played in front of full houses with huge television audiences.
But as Woodward says, it’s a European tournament. It is played in the northern hemisphere in winter and tens of thousands of fans travel in support of their team.
Pitchforking South Africa into it wouldn’t just upset the applecart, it would drive a horse right through it.
The gate needs to be firmly shut.