South Africa have withdrawn from the Rugby Championship in Australia, citing its government's travel restrictions, player welfare and safety concerns.
It will instead be a five-week Tri-Nations tournament beginning on October 31st between Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.
It means the World Cup champion Springboks will have played no internationals between their World Cup win last November, and a Lions test in July of next year.
A 46-member South African squad was scheduled to fly from Johannesburg on Sunday, however they say current government regulations made it unclear whether it was even legal for them to depart.
🇿🇦 Decision made on Boks' participation in Castle Lager Rugby Champs
🗣️ “This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners"
🔗 Full story here: https://t.co/3IxxpWIwAB pic.twitter.com/OX28h9HvNo
— Springboks (@Springboks) October 16, 2020
The South African Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said he was bitterly disappointed that they couldn't uphold the commitment to play with the other SANZAAR (joint organisation between South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) countries.
"This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners but the on-going impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare.
"SANZAAR and Rugby Australia have bent over backwards to make the tournament happen and it would have been unfair on them, their partners and state government to delay a decision any longer.
"Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories.
"It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia", Roux said.
"We understand that public safety concerns come first and there’s no way that we could expect short cuts to be found to get them out of their host countries and into the Springbok bubble.
"But the impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to be being able to compete."
Roux said he finds it hard to believe South Africa won't play a match in this calendar year, but accepted they have to roll with the circumstances.
"It has been an extremely challenging year and what started out as a two-week lockdown evolved into a global crisis, one of whose side effects has been to decimate our rugby calendar.
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SANZAAR launches Tri-Nations tournament following South African withdrawal From TRC due to ongoing effects of pandemic... @AllBlacks versus @unionargentina versus @wallabies
Full details: https://t.co/gLdktREUfj pic.twitter.com/19i4DJFgEY
— Super Rugby/TRC (@SuperRugby) October 16, 2020
"It seems impossible that the Springboks won’t play a Test match in 2020, but public health and safety have been the primary concern and we have been collateral damage like so many businesses.
"All we can do now is enjoy our domestic competitions and find ways to be ready for the arrival of the British & Irish Lions in 2021."
South Africa's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, formerly in that position at Munster, said the players couldn't even achieve enough game time to be properly conditioned for the tournament.
"We worked out that the players needed a minimum of 400 minutes of game time before they could be ready for a Test match.
"The overseas-based players had started playing before us and they would have been getting close to that time by 7 November.
"But many of those have completed their programmes or have had COVID outbreaks which has interrupted the planning. The Japanese based players haven’t played any rugby at all, while the home-based players would be well short of 400 minutes by the time of kick off."
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