New Zealand Rugby are in such a bind over their insistence they won't play the final Rugby Championship test in Sydney on December 12 that the news Springbok Oupa Mohoje has tested positive for Covid-19, putting South Africa's already tenuous involvement in the competition on even shakier ground, may make life easier for some at the organisation's Wellington headquarters.
Mohoje, a 30-year-old Cheetahs lock or loose forward who has played 17 tests, has been withdrawn from the Boks' camp in Cape Town. He is currently asymptomatic and hopefully will suffer no adverse effects from a virus which has turned the world upside down.
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Another player, Trevor Nyakane, a close contact of Mohoje's, has been withdrawn from the squad as a precaution.
But while the Boks have been at pains to explain the lengths they have gone to in order to minimise the risks of catching the coronavirus, the latest developments, added to the warning from Rassie Erasmus, their director of rugby, that the South Africans will be severely underdone physically, highlight the risks involved for the world champions, Australia as a country, and the Rugby Championship itself.
There is financial pressure on the Boks to attend a competition which starts on November 7, and Erasmus, while sounding an alert about the increased injury risks to his squad, will also be aware of the reputational damage that could occur to a team and nation on top of the world in Japan 11 months ago.
But any reputational knocks they take should they attend and lose badly to the All Blacks and Wallabies, who are far more advanced thanks to their Super Rugby competitions, won't compare to that suffered by New Zealand Rugby if they boycott the final test due to their unwillingness to put their players and management in quarantine over the Christmas period.
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The tidiest solution for NZR would be for South Africa to withdraw, thereby allowing the All Blacks, Wallabies and Argentina to all play four tests in four weeks.
That's because if NZR stand firm and go for the nuclear option of returning home early, the fallout will be severe – possible legal action from Australia, who are contracted to host two Bledisloe Cup tests this year – and probably discussions about whether the All Blacks deserve to retain the old cup, if they are in a position to do so on the scoreboard, and indeed the future of the competition.
Given there are agreements to pool revenue from the tests and distribute accordingly, a NZR withdrawal from the final test would also affect the bottom line for Australia, South Africa and Argentina. The whole thing would be messier than a traditional Mad Monday celebration and about as fun for those directly involved as the morning after.
NZR have already made themselves deeply unpopular among the Sanzaar alliance over their bullish plans for the future of Super Rugby.
The announcement that South Africa's top four clubs are aligning with the Northern Hemisphere from next year came with a parting shot from South Africa's chief executive Jurie Roux, who said: "We would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere", and Rugby Australia boss Hamish McLennan recently described the relationship between his organisation and NZR as being at its "lowest ebb".
A New Zealand Rugby boycott would make them and the All Blacks the pariahs of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world. NZR may be willing to wear that risk, but they must appreciate there will be consequences.
A South African withdrawal could be the escape route they need to save them from themselves.