South African Rugby has officially withdrawn the Springboks' participation in the Rugby Championship from this year's competition.
While reports on Friday morning suggested the Springboks had told SANZAAR they would no compete in the 2020 Rugby Championship, the organisation did not confirm the news until around midday.
“COVID is just a gift that keeps on giving,” SANZAAR chief 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.
“That said this now presents us with a unique opportunity, in this our 25thyear, to close off 2020 with a SANZAR Tri Nations Competition.”
The New Zealand Herald suggested the decision has already been made earlier on Friday, and that the competition will now feature only Australia, New Zealand and Argentina - a financial blow to all four countries.
The Springboks have cited player welfare and the need for government approval as sticking points in taking part in the competition.
South African Rugby boss Jurie Roux said it was not fair on SAANZAR and Rugby Australia to keep delaying the decision, so the tournament could be planned.
“This is a hugely disappointing outcome for supporters and commercial partners but the on-going impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations mean we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare, apart from other logistical challenges,” Roux said.
The Springboks are now facing facing going into next July's British & Irish Lions series on home soil having played little or no Test rugby since their victory in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against England last November.
Barbarians looked at potential replacement
South Africa's long and hard COVID-19 lockdown means the country's leading players were sidelined from competitive action between mid-March and the start of the domestic season this past weekend.
Team officials have suggested they needed at least 500 minutes of competitive rugby before they could take part in the Rugby Championship, with all but their overseas-based players well short of this.
It was hoped a compromise by SANZAAR to allow the Boks to enter the competition at the halfway point, giving players greater preparation time, might ease those concerns.
Reports suggest the Barbarians could be called to fill in for the South African fixtures to keep the Rugby Championship schedule.
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