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'It's definitely worth exploring' - Luke Fitzgerald on suggestion of Springboks entering Six Nations

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South Africa celebrate their victory (Adam Davy/PA)

South Africa celebrate their victory (Adam Davy/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

South Africa celebrate their victory (Adam Davy/PA)

The reports last week that South Africa were exploring leaving the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship and joining an expanded Six Nations sparked significant debate on both sides of the equator.  

Whether the story that a 2024 date was being considered for the move has substance or is just another move in the ongoing powerplay for the future of the game remains to be seen. But with South African teams already competing in the PRO14, it's perhaps not as outlandish a suggestion as initially seems.

Speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Land Rover, ex-Ireland star Luke Fitzgerald believed the idea warrants contemplation.

"It's definitely worth exploring," he said.

"They've been an unbelievable addition to the Pro14. I think it would freshen up the Six Nations a little bit. I think they're the only one that really makes sense. It'd be very interesting to watch that one play out.

"The problem for it is with the Rugby Championship the way it, it really puts that under pressure. That model is creaking anyway and financially they're really struggling. So it makes sense for them to want to come up here.

"How old is the Rugby Championship? Is it 25 years? It's not a huge amount of time in that model."

World Rugby had announced plans for an expanded international calendar this time last year which would have seen a top division of 12 teams from both hemispheres play each other once a year.

Those plans were abandoned after failing to gain the required support from unions with World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont stating: "We remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby.

"This includes our continued commitment to competition and investment opportunities for emerging nations to increase the competitiveness of the international game with a view to possible Rugby World Cup expansion in 2027."

And Fitzgerald thinks that the damage that the Rugby Championship would suffer should the World Champions leave could potentially bring that idea or something similar back to the table, which may ultimately scupper the plan.

"They're under pressure with Australia really dying a death as well. If they (SA) leave, it would really, really hurt the game down there," he added.

"What happens then, do we end up back towards this World Rugby League, or whatever it is, do we do something like that?"

"I'm not too sure the Six Nations teams will want to accommodate that. They're all doing very well financially and the game isn't dying over here, it's dying down there.

"At this point, and like I'd love to see another team in there but where do they fit into the schedule which is probably already overcrowded as it is?

"Rugby's not like soccer, you can't just play 40/50 games a year. You can't do it, people will just creak and break so how do you manage that?

"Italy at this point just haven't really moved on. Do we see some green shoots in their club game? Yes we do, but it just hasn't really been reflected in performances in the Six Nations so how much value do they add?

"Even in the Heineken cup, if you have an Italian team in your group, you're expected that two other teams will go through from that group.

"How much longer do we accommodate them? Do we actually try and swap them with South Africa? Do we end up putting them in a competition with Georgia or something like that and the winner comes into the Seven Nations, if you like?

"There's loads of permutations on this and I think the Six Nations teams will probably say, do we need to change?"

Online Editors