Former England fly-half and RFU director of professional rugby Rob Andrew has not poured cold water on the idea of the Springboks joining the Six Nations.
Reports earlier this month claimed the SARU and Six Nations organisers were in talks about an expansion of the northern hemisphere showpiece to include world champions South Africa.
And while it wouldn’t happen any sooner than after the World Cup in France in 2023, Andrew said the headaches in logistics that it would cause wouldn’t be a problem if the price was right.
“I’ve heard it before,” said Andrew, now chief executive at Sussex County Cricket Club. “It’s one of those things that comes up every five years or so, normally around the time of renegotiation of rights, shares of revenue, competition formats and all the rest of it.
“The complexities of coming into the Six Nations would be extraordinary, but one of the things I have learnt is that you never say never in modern professional sports. It’s changing at such a rapid rate.
“When we pitched up in South Africa in 1995, it was the last ever amateur World Cup. The game was still amateur just 20-odd years ago. It’s the same with cricket and the move to T20 and the IPL.
“Some of the stuff that’s happened in the last 10 years, you would never have imagined it possible.
“So you just never know if it will pan out, though I suspect money will play a big part in deciding the outcome. Modern professional sport is driven by money, and a lot of decisions are made on that basis, rightly or wrongly.”
SANZAAR, the body which organises the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby, have labelled the situation ‘outrageous’.
“It’s nothing more than media speculation and I think someone’s just trying to stoke a little bit of fire,” SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said.
“I think you’ve got to take a step back and just realise where we are in the world rugby political landscape right now.
“There’s elections coming up in May, there’s a whole lot of positioning and jostling going on. There’s going to be a couple of outrageous statements that have been thrown across the bow.
“The second thing that I think is really important for stakeholders both in Africa and Sydney and the rest of SANZAAR is our South African directors have been pretty clear with us.”
It is unlikely Italy would lose their place in the tournament, despite not winning a match since 2015.
Advocates of Japan and Georgia have argued for the Six Nations to adopt a relegation system to accelerate the development of Tier 2 countries.
But RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has already played down that proposal becoming a reality, because there are no guarantees a team other than Italy would not be relegated.
“If you were to have relegation tomorrow the issue for us (England) is you don’t have a robust, viable tier two,” Sweeney told RugbyPass last June. “If we were to drop into the current tier two it’s not like in football going from the Premier League to the Championship, you don’t really have a viable tier two structure there currently.
“So for us, the impact is very significant on the commercial side. Our broadcast rights, sponsorship rights, ticketing, hospitality would be significantly hit and then that starts getting into the question of the business model about this place [RFU HQ at Twickenham]. We can’t just immediately sign into it without knowing some more.”