NZ Rugby threw us under the bus, and now SA teams thriving in URC, says Mark Alexander

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander and Bulls flyhalf Johan Goosen (right) at the Qatar Airways partnership announcement in Doha on Sunday. Photo: Ashfak Mohamed

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander and Bulls flyhalf Johan Goosen (right) at the Qatar Airways partnership announcement in Doha on Sunday. Photo: Ashfak Mohamed

Published Sep 5, 2022


Doha — Super Rugby had its time, but the honest feeling towards the travel component of that competition for South African players was that they “hated it”.

That was what SA Rugby president Mark Alexander explained in Doha on Sunday following the announcement of a three-year partnership with Qatar Airways with the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Champions Cup competitions.

The deal will see South Africa’s five franchises – the Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Lions (URC and Champions Cup), as well as the Cheetahs (Challenge Cup) – have their flights in those tournaments sponsored by Qatar Airways, who are now the official South African airline partner of the EPCR (European Professional Club Rugby), and the official airline partner of the URC.

So, add in the fact that South Africa and Europe are in similar time-zones, and it is a far cry from those nightmare tours to Australia and New Zealand.

And while the Bulls were the only SA team to win the Super Rugby title, the Pretoria side contested the URC final in their first season, along with the Stormers, with the Capetonians becoming the inaugural champions.

“Unbelievable (in terms of player welfare). In Super Rugby, our guys were away for five weeks. Consider that they were all young men, recently married guys. When they wake up in the morning, their families are sleeping. So, they wake up three o’clock in the morning – they are not supposed to do that, but they do – so that they can talk to their families,” Alexander said at a media briefing in Doha. The players love being part of the European set-up.

“The players hated it: the travel to Australasia. Five weeks away, so many different time-zones.”

The fact that SA Rugby were also dumped out of that tournament by New Zealand Rugby hasn’t been forgotten either.

“And in saying that, one must also consider what happened to us on the 16 July 2020, when New Zealand announced in the press that they are not continuing Super Rugby in its current form,” Alexander said.

“Thank God that two years before that, we invested in the PRO16 (with the Cheetahs and Southern Kings). They (New Zealand Rugby) threw us under the bus … That had the potential to cripple South African rugby forever.

“It is the manner in which it was done. We are still hurting from that. We are exploring other avenues with other things, but I will never forget …

“When you have partners, you normally give each other notice. When Australia were going through bad times, we did a sacrifice with our broadcast money to make sure they stay alive. Similarly when there were problems with the earthquakes in New Zealand …

“But when we had to drop two teams, we were on our own. We have to do things that is the best for South African rugby, and that is our principle now.

“It works for us (travelling via Doha), and works when we are preparing our teams. A lot of our players play in Europe, and using this as a base is ideal.”


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