Rugby

South Africa hopeful world champion Springboks can play this year

AFP-JIJI

South Africa Rugby said on Friday it hopes the world champion Springboks can play this year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

"SA Rugby continue to work with all stakeholders on the prospects of a return to play for the Springboks at some point this year," a statement said.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will hold an online press conference on July 21 and is expected to release plans for domestic and international rugby.

There has been no rugby in the country since March 14, when the Coastal Sharks defeated the Western Stormers in the seventh round of Super Rugby.

Earlier on Friday, it was announced the country's top eight professional teams — the Bulls, Lions, Stormers, Sharks, Cheetahs, Kings, Pumas and Griquas — will resume non-contact training next week.

"Contact training will not be permitted for the moment but the players will be allowed back onto the field with a rugby ball and back into the gym — while observing strict protocols in both areas — which comes as a great relief to the sport," Roux said.

Roux said various formats were being discussed for domestic competitions because it was unlikely that air corridors would be open soon enough to enable the teams to play in international competitions such as Super Rugby and Pro 14.

He said all other rugby not involving the eight teams had been canceled for the 2020 season.

The Springboks had to cancel three home tests, two against Scotland and one against Georgia, this month due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

By Thursday, South Africa was the African country suffering most from the pandemic with 324,221 confirmed cases and 4,669 fatalities.

The other home fixtures for the Springboks, against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship during August and September, have not been officially canceled.

However, an SA Rugby official told AFP there was "no chance of those matches going ahead given the seriousness of the health situation in the country".

New Zealand has been suggested as the venue for a revamped tournament with Argentina, Australia and South Africa playing all their matches there.

Jacques Nienaber's men are also scheduled to play November tests in Italy, Ireland, France and Wales, but that tour may also be in doubt.

There have been reports the four European countries, plus England, Scotland, Fiji and Japan, are lining up a tournament during November.

The Springboks were originally scheduled to play 13 Tests this year, with the internationals seen as vital preparations ahead of hosting the British and Irish Lions next July and August.

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