World Cup winners South Africa have withdrawn from the Rugby Championship, leaving Argentina, Australia and New Zealand to contest the tournament.
Tournament organisers, SANZAAR, who had given South Africa an additional 48 hours to confirm their intentions, announced the anticipated decision on Friday.
South Africa cited player welfare concerns because of the delayed start to their domestic competition and uncertainty over government travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic for players in South Africa and in Europe.
The Springboks had been scheduled to play Argentina in Sydney on November 7, more than a year since their previous Test match.
SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos said: “Naturally, it is extremely disappointing that the Springboks, due to the continued complexities of operating in and around this COVID environment, cannot fully compete in the previously planned six-round Rugby Championship.”
South Africa are due to host the British and Irish Lions next year and might have been without Test rugby for 20 months by the time that series starts, unless new matches can be scheduled.
South Africa’s provincial Curry Cup competition only began on October 10 because of the delays brought on because of the coronavirus, leaving Springboks players with little match play before the Championship.
At most, players would have had three domestic games before the scheduled departure for Australia and, for most, two of those would have been informal or exhibition matches.
The Springboks’ withdrawal will cut the Rugby Championship from 12 to six matches, all to be played in Australia, but it will still go ahead over a six-week period, with each team having at least two byes.
The Argentina squad are already in Australia preparing for the tournament, their preparation at home having been set back by a Covid-19 outbreak which affected at least 10 players and the head coach.
The Pumas will also be short of match play when they face their opening Test and are attempting to arrange warm-up matches against local teams.
The All Blacks and Wallabies will meet in the opening matches of the tournament in Sydney on October 31 and November 7, following on from their two-match Bledisloe Cup series in New Zealand.
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