EXCLUSIVE: South Africa are set to replace Italy in the Six Nations from 2025 in a seismic move for rugby’s globe structure, with investors CVC a ‘driving force’ behind the idea after buying a £365m stake in the competition
- World champions South Africa are accelerating their move to join the Six Nations
- The Springboks want to align themselves with Europe and could play from 2025
- The country’s provincial teams are already set to compete in Europe next season
- But South Africa’s presence could see Italy kicked out of the tournament
South Africa’s switch to the Six Nations is still very much on, with talks continuing about the Springboks joining Europe’s showpiece tournament from 2025.
Despite Wednesday’s announcement that South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina have committed to the Southern Hemisphere’s annual Rugby Championship for three more years, it is understood the world champions’ union remain intent on realigning with the North.
With the country’s provincial sides set to participate in European tournaments from next season, the next step is for the Boks to be integrated into the Six Nations. This scenario was first reported by Sportsmail in February 2020 and, although the timescale has altered slightly, the outcome has not.
South Africa are set to join the Six Nations from 2025 in a seismic move for the rugby world
Investors CVC are a driving force behind the idea after buying £365m stake in the competition, which was last won by Wales in 2021
Initially, it was thought that the move — which has profound implications for the global structure of the sport — would take place in 2024, shortly after the next World Cup.
Now, sources have indicated that the complexities of the arrangements mean the move will take effect 12 months later.
Well-placed sources have suggested that the most likely plan is for the six-team format to be retained, rather than any expansion of the championship.
That means that the Boks would replace struggling Italy, which would enhance the competitiveness of the event but reduce any future prospect of participating unions agreeing to a model of promotion and relegation, without the safety net of the weaker Azzurri.
Asked last autumn about the option of expanding the tournament, Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel said: ‘The Six Nations have added to and reduced its teams very few times in its 140 years, so it’s something we’d be very cautious about doing. We’re pretty happy with what we have, but we’re pretty sure it could be improved.’
The world champions – coached by Rassie Erasmus – remain intent on aligning with Europe
Last year, CVC bought a one-seventh stake in the competition, in return for an investment of ‘up to £365million’. It is understood that, behind the scenes, the private equity firm are acting as a driving force in promoting talks aimed at ensuring South Africa join the Six Nations. They are said to believe that significant commercial gains can be achieved only by fundamental upheaval and reform.
South African rugby has been gradually aligning with the North — shifting away from the traditional ties with Southern Hemisphere partners in very different time zones. Their provincial sides are now in the United Rugby Championship (URC) with Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian teams, and from next season they will take part in European tournaments.
The country has a deep-rooted rugby culture, providing commercial clout which has propped up the Sanzaar (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina) alliance for years.
Their ability to generate broadcast revenue was a major appeal to European unions, leading to the creation of the URC.
South Africa’s inclusion could see struggling Italy stood down from the tournament’s roster
When the CVC investment in the Six Nations was announced last March, the company’s mission statement read: ‘The objective is to enhance the sporting spectacle of all the tournaments, teams and brands; and to build broader commercial capabilities to support these ambitious plans.
‘These steps will ensure continued development for the benefit of fans, and to attract a new more diverse and global fan base.’
Some powerful figures in the European game are firmly opposed to the Springboks joining the Six Nations. But commercial factors will be prioritised amid the ongoing financial after-shocks from global, Covid-related losses. If CVC and the game’s authorities decide this is the best means of maximising revenue, it is surely an inevitability.
Sanzaar chief executive Brendan Morris confirmed that South Africa’s union are looking at alternative scenarios, saying: ‘They put us on notice they were exploring their options. That was well before Christmas.’