New Rugby Championship schedule gives Springboks a…

Significant changes to the Rugby Championship schedule will reduce the amount of intercontinental travel – and the resulting travel fatigue – and allow for more competitive matches throughout the tournament.

In the previous edition of the Rugby Championship, the Springboks started their campaign with a home game against the Pumas before embarking on tours of Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. By the time they returned to South Africa for games against the Wallabies and All Blacks, the Boks had crossed about 30 time zones in three weeks.

There are other reasons the Boks have not won a six-round rugby championship tournament in over 10 years. But the debilitating effects of travel have certainly contributed to underperformance and ultimately to a disappointing profit-loss record over this time frame.

Rugby Championship Springboks 2022

Argentina faced similar travel requirements before hosting the All Blacks and Wallabies at the end of the tournament. However, New Zealand and Australia benefited from a routine that allowed them to play the first four games of their respective seasons in Australasia.

Between 2012 and 2018 all but one of the tournaments used the same rugby championship schedule. The competition was streamlined in 2015 and 2019 to make room for the subsequent World Cup tournament.

The Boks did not perform in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions and although the 2021 format was adjusted to accommodate coronavirus concerns, four of the six rounds were played in Australia.

For almost a decade there was a rigid and uneven schedule. From 2022, the rugby championship will adopt a new tournament format to level the playing field.

The Boks will play double-headers against the All Blacks and Wallabies before taking on Argentina home and away. The venues of the above two-game tours change annually.

The Boks host the All Blacks at Mbombela Stadium on August 6th and Ellis Park on August 13th. They then travel to Australia to play the Wallabies in Adelaide on August 27 and Sydney on September 3.

In the next edition of a six-round rugby championship – expected to take place in 2024 as the 2023 championship is being shortened to allow preparations for the World Cup – the Boks will travel to New Zealand for two games before defeating the Wallabies in one align double head.

At first glance it appears to be a fairer arrangement, with all visiting teams facing similar travel requirements. A closer look reveals that the Boks will have some logistical challenges to overcome later in this year’s tournament as they play three straight overseas games (two in Australia and one in Argentina).

The Boks are in a strong position at the moment.

Much has been said about the team’s improved execution and intensity in the third test against Wales. Much has been written about the All Blacks’ struggles in the recent series against Ireland, in which Ian Foster’s charges lost 2-1.

Both teams will be desperate to prove a point in the upcoming “miniseries”. The fact that these games will be played in South Africa – and that the All Blacks, not the Boks, will be forced to cross the Indian Ocean – should not be taken for granted.

When Jacques Nienaber was appointed head coach in 2020, he talked about advancing the world champion and winning more major series and titles.

Despite Covid-19 disrupting the Boks’ preparations, they still managed to beat the British & Irish Lions in a hard-fought series to be played in 2021. Later, they were extremely competitive in the “mini-series” against the All Blacks – losing the first game and then winning the second. However, they failed in their quest for the Freedom Cup, the title that arch-rivals fight for every year.

Channeling the spirit of 2009

The Boks haven’t beaten the All Blacks twice in a season since 2009. Although the showpiece was then a three-team affair, South Africa already faced significant travel needs and played three consecutive Tests in Australasia annually.

In 2009, the Boks had the advantage of starting the competition with two home games against the All Blacks. John Smit’s men made the most of home advantage and those two wins set them up for a campaign that spanned five wins.

Could history repeat itself in 2022? At the end of the tournament, will we have another scenario where the SA Rugby Trophy Cabinet houses the World Cup, a Lions Series Trophy, the Freedom Cup and a Rugby Championship/Tri Nations title?

The Boks still have a lot to prove and the All Blacks – who have a good record in South Africa – should not be written off. The tour to Australia will be a challenge for a Bok team who haven’t won an away test against the Wallabies since 2013.

But thanks to the format changes, the Boks will have their best opportunity to succeed in more than a decade. If they make the best of their home games against the All Blacks and carry that form into the games in Australia and Argentina, they will surely end their rugby championship losing streak.

In the process, they could reclaim World Rugby’s No. 1 rankings and make a big statement to Ireland and France ahead of the Dublin and Marseille meetings in November. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper, the Daily Maverick 168, which is available nationwide for R25.

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