The sure sign that Super Rugby 2020 is dead
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
I’d already made up my own mind anyway, but the revelation that big-name Stormers backline acquisition Jamie Roberts had scrambled onto one of the last international flights out of South Africa late last week somehow seemed final confirmation that Super Rugby is a goner for this year.
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Initially it had seemed that the vastly experienced and decorated Welsh and British and Irish Lions midfielder was going to “sit it out” with his new Capetonian team-mates in very limited training mode and await further orders, as it were.
But as mandatory lockdowns took increased hold on countries worldwide during the coronavirus crisis, qualified doctor Roberts, 33, made the decision to return home to northern climes while it was still possible.
Think about it: had there been the slightest chance of a resumption to the competition relatively soon, would head coach John Dobson and others above him in office at cash-challenged Newlands have been remotely inclined to approve his departure?
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They had already had their best intentions for 2020 ripped to shreds, really, by a disastrous catalogue of long-term injuries to critical Springbok World Cup 2019-winning heroes like Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Herschel Jantjies.
Depth at centre had also been very questionable, ahead of Roberts’ signing from Bath, given the departure of Damian de Allende after years of yeoman service to the No 12 channel, and the continued, slow rehabilitation from injury of someone like Dan du Plessis, who had not yet surfaced in Stormers colours when the cut came after round seven.
So if there was the slightest chance of revival of Super Rugby within weeks, Roberts would have been a particularly key, senior element of their ongoing plans to nail down a knockout berth.
As expected, he has been a major role-player in their defensive organisation, even as genuine attacking oomph has been a rather more elusive Stormers quality.
Remember that Sanzaar bosses had already signalled at the suspension that little more than four weeks could go past before resumption would be necessary - anything beyond that would likely scuttle the tournament.
Well, next weekend will already be week three without further activity, and if anything we are only further away from a resumption of major-level sport anywhere in the world: mid-year looks the very earliest likelihood of that, and the Super Rugby final was earmarked for 20 June.
No, as one especially well-geared to judge the comprehensive effects of the pandemic, Jamie Roberts knew his maiden season at Newlands (enjoyable as he enthused it had been up to now) was dead in the water.
*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing