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Ken Borland

Erasmus worried about personal welfare of Springboks 0

Posted on September 29, 2020 by Ken

South Africa’s Rugby Championship participation is obviously dependent on government approval, but player welfare is also a major concern for Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus and his personal opinion is that the Springboks are going to be underdone in terms of game time.

South Africa’s opening Rugby Championship game is against Argentina on November 7 and they have to arrive in Australia by October 18 in order to quarantine for two weeks, but that means the members of the Springbok squad that are based in South Africa will only have a maximum of 240 minutes under their belts – SuperFan Saturday, this weekend’s Green v Gold match and the opening round of Super Rugby Unlocked.

“We desperately want to play because it would be terrible to have a year with no Test rugby. But we’ve had no clear answer from the English clubs about their semi-finals and final, we have to take a massive squad because you need four players in each key position and we all have to arrive at the same time because of two weeks quarantine, during which we can practise together.

“The science tells us that the players need five or six games, 400-500 minutes, before playing Test rugby is safe because of the injury risk and player welfare. It’s a tough one because we know we have to go, but we just don’t know how it’s going to be possible. And we don’t have much time to sort it out, the decisions all have to be done by October 10. It’s a matter of high performance and player welfare, we want to be competitive but 240 minutes is the most our players will have,” Erasmus said on Monday.

It’s fortunate that the players don’t have to be isolated in their hotel rooms, stuck on their cellular phones and gaming devices, for their two-week isolation, but even playing intra-squad matches between themselves is fraught with risk.

“We’ll be lucky if most of them have more than 200 minutes game time when we arrive in Australia, but we can probably still play against each other, a 46-man squad means we have two teams of 23. So if we play twice then that adds another 160 minutes, takes us to 360, which is nearly there. And there may be more intensity than usual because the guys will be playing for spots. “But then there’s also the risk of more injuries. And it’s not just your 15 players that you are worried about, it could be any of 30 guys on the field at any given time. Plus all 46 of the squad have played less than 200 minutes and have been under strict Lockdown, the toughest in the world. So there are a lot of problems with that as well! But ultimately the decision will be made for us,” Erasmus said.

Commercial imperatives dictate Boks must play, however unideal 0

Posted on August 01, 2020 by Ken

WorldRugby may have this week opened a window for the Rugby Championship to take place in New Zealand between November 7 and December 12, but the situation is still far from ideal for South African participation. But commercial imperatives dictate that the Springboks simply have to find a way to get over there and play, otherwise SA Rugby will suffer devastating financial losses.

It is the Sanzaar competitions that bring in the bulk of South African rugby’s revenues and with SuperRugby having been scrapped after just half-a-dozen rounds, it is the Rugby Championship that needs to save the broadcast deals through providing some live content.

As SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said recently, the Rugby Championship is a very expensive competition to run, but the broadcast revenues are significant enough that the commercial value compels Sanzaar to continue the event. The difference between revenues and expenses is the reason SA Rugby can use the Rugby Championship to cross-subsidise several other competitions.

One of those competitions is the Currie Cup, which used to be an event of industrial proportions in South African rugby, the envy of the world. Sadly SA Rugby has over the years allowed the jewel in their crown, their most valuable property after the Springboks, to fade into relative insignificance.

But the imminent demise of SuperRugby is likely to bring a resurgence in domestic competition and a Currie Cup style tournament this year is going to play a crucial role in the Springboks returning to action; hopefully that local action will continue to be a focus in 2021 and beyond.

Even though playing in Europe seems to be the big prize at the moment, and private equity investors in our franchises are already saying this is essential for them to get a return on their money, hopefully SA Rugby will still put energy and resources into having a strong purely local competition.

In the meantime, the top eight teams in South Africa are going to play a tournament later this year to at least get rugby back on the go locally. Apart from providing some content for SuperSport, who pour millions into the game, those eight teams are also going to play a vital role in getting the Springboks ready for action.

With New Zealand and Australia already back playing rugby for half-a-dozen weeks and South African players realistically only returning to action in mid-September, there have been understandable concerns expressed that the Springboks are going to be on a hiding to nothing if the Rugby Championship is played this year, being so far behind in terms of preparation. There have been angry mutters about their World Cup win being tarnished.

But the reality of the situation is that even if the Springboks are going to disappoint in terms of on-field results, they simply have to return to action and our television screens, it is a financial imperative. And they have played for financial reasons before, most recently when they lost to Wales in Washington in June 2018.

New Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has said a squad of 45 players are going to have to travel to New Zealand and quarantine before entering their bio-bubble, and there have even been complaints from local coaches that that will decimate their provincial squads. As is often the case in South African rugby, the unions are going to need a reminder that they are there to serve the national cause, any local competition this year is mostly about getting the Springboks ready for action.

Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos certainly knows the value of the Springbok brand and last weekend he was stressing the importance of them returning to international action before the end of the year. And as we saw at last year’s World Cup, in which they were certainly underdogs, the ability to rise above the obstacles in their path is a great property of the Springboks.

“By no means will the playing field be level, but the Springbok side have a deep, steely resolve, and I know Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will optimise whatever time they have to be as competitive as possible,” Marinos said.

Nienaber says the players in the Springbok squad need at least six games beforehand in order to be able to play in the Rugby Championship. They are unlikely to get much more than six matches unless rugby somehow resumes later this month, but at least they will be going to New Zealand feeling fresh.

And there is a large gap between the Rugby Championship kicking off and the end of SuperRugby Aotearoa and SuperRugby Australia. The New Zealand competition ends on August 16, with no final, while the Australian final will be held on September 19. Whoever handles the double-edged sword of rust versus fatigue best will have a large advantage, and I wouldn’t write off the Springboks just yet.

Pro14 expansion & no more talent-hogging in the pipeline for SA Rugby 0

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Ken


A new contracting model that stops certain unions from hogging all the talent as well as expanded South African participation in the Pro14 are both in the pipeline for SA Rugby, president Mark Alexander said on Wednesday.

The two initiatives are certainly linked as the success of South African teams playing in the Pro14 will depend on them performing well on the field, and there is little doubt the Southern Kings and Free State Cheetahs need to improve their depth to be competitive this year and beyond. Adding two more franchises to the mix will also put more of a premium on player resources.

“We are going to have more South African teams involved in the Pro14, possibly from 2020, we’re in negotiations about it and we are excited about it. We will then have four teams in the southern hemisphere and four in the north, which gives our players more opportunity. The Pro14 works financially for us, especially when we become full members in 2019/20.

“Griquas and Mpumalanga are now part of our franchise system and we are preparing them to play in Europe. We ignored the north for too long, it’s a very strong competition. Sanzaar is also a great competition for us, but the biggest problem is the distances you have to travel. Playing in the Pro14 helps with player welfare and being in the same time zone helps the broadcasters,” Alexander said at the tournament launch at SuperSport studios on Wednesday.

Alexander said that there had also been broad support for a new contracting model that limits the number of senior players each union can have on their books, as well as providing for a loan system that will help all the franchises.

“The new contracting system will allow for a draft. We cannot sustain a system with 990 professional players, but I believe we have enough players. But some franchises are sitting with six locks they have signed from Craven Week and a lot of them are sitting in the storeroom and not playing. They need to be playing instead of sitting around waiting for someone to get injured.

“The new player contracting model is vital in this regard, it will limit the number of players a union can sign to around 45-50 senior players, but there won’t be any pay limit in terms of budgets. This new model has come from the players’ association and it is a very good document. We have created a false market in this country and we need to be responsible because the first thing junior players do when they get signed is stop studying,” Alexander said.


Na latest to confirm participation as NGC field nears half-full 0

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Ken


Almost half of the field for the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City has been confirmed, with Korean-born American Kevin Na, the world number 26, the latest player to confirm his participation in the event from December 4-7.

The 14 confirmed players includes half of the triumphant European Ryder Cup team, with Thomas Bjorn, the defending champion, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher all having qualified for the second edition of the new-look Nedbank Golf Challenge with a 30-man field.

The Race to Dubai, the European Tour’s order of merit, ends this weekend in Dubai with the World Tour Championship, and the majority of the Sun City field will then be confirmed. The only remaining places will depend on who wins the Cape Town Open on November 30 and who the top five South Africans in the world rankings are.

Tournament director Alastair Roper said the likes of Marcel Siem, Jonas Blixt, Louis Oosthuizen, Joost Luiten, Alexander Levy, Mikko Ilonen, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood were all likely to qualify and had entered, while he would be targeting Ian Poulter, Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepke, the winner of the lucrative Turkish Open at the weekend, and Ernie Els in the coming days to secure their participation.

Top European stars such as Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose will be heading to the United States that week to play in the Hero Honda World Challenge, Tiger Woods’s tournament that has moved from California to Orlando, Florida.

“I’m not holding my breath for Adam Scott, and Poulter, Willett and Garcia have yet to express an interest. Koepke is now sixth on the Race to Dubai and has not yet entered, but I’m going to try and get him to do that soon.

“Ernie is the fourth-highest South African in the rankings so he should qualify, but he has an injury niggle and I think he’s leaving it as late as possible to enter just to see how his fitness is. Dawie van der Walt is in as the winner of the Sunshine Tour order of merit and Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are the next two South Africans on the rankings.

“Then there’s Ernie and Tim Clark. George Coetzee was in the reckoning on the Race to Dubai but has now slipped out, but if he has a good week now then he could edge out Tim Clark. But a lot of the South Africans – like George, Tim, Branden Grace, Richard Sterne and maybe Retief Goosen will hopefully be playing in the Cape Town Open to try and win that and qualify for Sun City,” Roper said yesterday.

If some of those golfers are culled from the list then the likes of Pablo Larrazabal and Romain Wattel will come into the picture, while South African Danie van Tonder has finned his way into contention through his performances this season. If Englishman Ross Fisher maintains his 18th position in the Race to Dubai then he will qualify through that; otherwise he’s in as the leader of the Sunshine Tour order of merit. If Fisher qualifies through his European Tour ranking, then Van Tonder, second on the local money-list, will be making his Nedbank Golf Challenge debut.

The presence of at least three golfers of Asian heritage – Na, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat – will also enable Sun International to go on a valuable marketing exercise of their resort to countries like South Korea and Thailand.

Roper was also delighted to report steady rain in the Pilanesberg over the last couple of weeks, which apart from maybe encouraging the moles to burrow just underneath the fairways, should guarantee consistent rough and encourage the golfers to stay on the short grass.

Confirmed players: Thomas Bjørn (Denmark), Martin Kaymer (Germany), Lee Westwood (England), Charl Schwartzel (South Africa), Victor Dubuisson (France), Jamie Donaldson (Wales), Stephen Gallacher (Scotland), Dawie van der Walt (South Africa), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand), Luke Donald (England), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain), Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand), Ross Fisher (England), Kevin Na (United States).


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