Matt Williams: Springboks to inevitably join Six, or will it be Seven Nations?
Rugby across the globe is experiencing some mysterious and desperate decision-making
Are Irish teams ready to play at high altitude in Pretoria and Johannesburg, in the African heat? File photograph: Getty Images
As you sip your morning tea and read this article, I will be experiencing my second 14 day quarantine in three months. I have flown up from Sydney, where for 11 days straight there has been zero cases of Covid-19.
Normally, you would expect that when you come from an area that has little or no infections, to an area that has many infections, like Dublin, quarantining is not required.
In these dangerous times, I understand we all have to live with mysteries. l know that I had to be bonkers to leave a Covid-19 safe place like Sydney and fly north into the teeth of the second wave of the European pandemic. I accept my own stupidity but having to lock myself up after coming from a place that is almost Covid-19 free? Now that is right up there with the Shroud of Turin as far as mysteries go.
But the mysterious stuff that defies logic doesn’t stop there - it’s spreading like the virus.
Mysteriously, the leading South Africa provincial teams are leaving Super Rugby and possibly joining the Pro14. Of course, that has the added implication of Irish teams playing games at high altitude in Pretoria and Johannesburg, in the African heat. The Chardonnay sipping committee will be in the air-conditioned box while the players sweat it out at 5,000 feet. Good luck with that one boys.
Then there will be the inevitability of the Springboks joining the Six, or will it be Seven Nations? One hundred and twenty years of the best rugby competition on the planet changed forever, as the law of unintended consequences lurks threateningly in the shadows.
The mysteries are not limited to the northern hemisphere
This was all started by another mystery, when the administrators of leading rugby competitions, such as the Six Nations and the Pro14, sold a significant percentage of their rich historical business to venture capital companies. When I heard that news I knew that the game was going to pay a price, way beyond money earned.
Philanthropy was not on the agenda at any of their meetings - venture capital demands a return on investment. That was never a mystery. Their gig is about making a profit as opposed to national unions who have responsibility, not only to the professional game but to nurture and grow the participation of our youth in rugby.
The mysteries are not limited to the northern hemisphere. Just when you thought that the relationships between the Australian Rugby Union and their cousins across the ditch in New Zealand had hit rock bottom, the Kiwis started digging.
Tomorrow morning at the Wellington “Cake Tin”, the Wallabies face the almost impossible task of defeating the might of the New Zealand rugby team. Yet the board of New Zealand Rugby is playing dirtier than any of their players and that’s saying something!
The NZR seems determined to bury Rugby Australia in the process of setting up a trans-Tasman competition for 2021 and beyond.
As the Springboks have all but signed their divorce papers from the Rugby Championship, New Zealand’s leadership seems hell bent on setting up a south Pacific rugby dictatorship lead by their own. Why New Zealand rugby wants to drive rugby in Australia to the point of destitution, by refusing to allow more than two provincial teams to participate in the trans-Tasman competition, is a mystery known only to them.
Astonishingly, this week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Kiwis have been in secret negotiations with the Western Australian billionaire and the Western Forces financial backer, Andrew “Twiggy” Forest.
It has long been the hope of all in Australian rugby that Twiggy would become rugby union’s redeeming hero. Riding into Sydney from the west, sun at his back, guns blazing to clean up Dodge City and the long list of “dumb arses,” who have been the ruin of rugby down under. Carrying swags full of cash and sitting high up on the Rugby Australia table, with the Western Force rightfully reinstated into Super Rugby, Twiggy would forget the misdeeds of the past and lead Australian rugby to new heights.
Now it appears that Twiggy is being seduced to slip under the covers with those cruel Kiwis. The suggestion is that Twiggy would give Rugby Australia the middle finger and get even for dumping the Force from Super Rugby a few years ago: “HEY TWIGGY. Please say it isn’t so. The Wallabies need you.”
If the Kiwis plan becomes a reality, rugby in Australia will go the way of the Tasmanian Tiger and drift into the trivia question of: “which two time William Webb Ellis winning country self imploded into rugby oblivion in less than 20 years?”
Of course, we all know there is no real mystery here. Past horrendous leadership, poor governance and a total focus on the professional game at the expense of developing the community game and junior players will cripple any sporting organisation in double-quick time.
What is mysterious is that the northern unions, South Africa and the Kiwis are following Australia’s lead, commencing to trot down paths, without having any idea where they are leading.
Hopefully, in a few days, I will be out of my room and back to normal life, whatever that now is. Rugby across the globe has much longer to wait before they know if they have been given the all clear for their desperate decisions.