Cape Town – South Africa meet England for the first time in two years in a suddenly critical Test match at Twickenham on Saturday ... but respected New Zealand-born critic and coach John Mitchell advocates more regular, guaranteed annual clashes between the two in a reworked Six Nations.
The Springboks tackle these old enemies while reeling to some extent from a slightly unexpected 29-15 defeat to Ireland in Dublin in the first game of their four-match northern hemisphere agenda, whilst the hosts also enter the fixture on the back foot having been beaten at home by the world champion All Blacks rather more convincingly than the 24-21 score-line suggests.
At least the Boks boast bragging rights from the last encounter with England at the same venue two years ago, when they squeezed out a 16-15 result in their favour; this weekend’s game between the respective runners-up in the Castle Rugby Championship and most recent Six Nations may well be just as close and difficult to tip.
But SA-based former All Blacks and Golden Lions coach Mitchell, writing in his new book Mitch: The Real Story (with Gavin Rich) says it makes sense for yearly meetings at the very least, with the Boks infused to the Six Nations competition as seventh element.
“Many people in the game favour the inception of a gobal season, and I am one of them,” the SuperSport analyst writes.
“But the only way I can see that occurring is when - and note, I say ‘when’ and not ‘if’ - the Springboks and SARU decide to play in what will become the Seven Nations.
“The broadcasters will make sure this happens, as will the players, as their piece of the revenue pie will get even bigger when it does.
“South Africa is in the same time zone as the northern hemisphere rugby nations, and there are already 250 South African players playing there – that is more than six full rugby squads.”
Mitchell says a global season would have very favourable implications for fans.
“They will be able to enjoy a world club championship played in conferences that are drawn out of the hat before each season.
“I envisage it being divided into pools of 10 ... now that would be a refreshing move, wouldn’t it?
“Ultimately entertainment is the operative word: I feel we may be reaching saturation point with the amount of rugby that is being played (under the existing model), and we must make sure the product is entertaining and remains so.”
*Mitch: The Real Story (Zebra Press) is available at leading bookstores and makes good Christmas stocking fare for rugby enthusiasts.