South Africa has withdrawn from the Rugby Championship, cutting the number of tournament matches in half.
Following the Herald's revelation yesterday, tournament organiser Sanzaar on Friday confirmed the withdrawal of the world champion Springboks - which will reduce the competition from a 12 to six-test event and necessitate the need for bye weekends.
Sanzaar on Wednesday gave South Africa Rugby an additional 48 hours to reach a final verdict on the Springboks' participation after last-ditch attempts were made for the Boks to arrive in Australia three weeks later than originally planned.
In the end, despite having three to five matches before their tests in Australia, South Africa did not believe the Springboks had sufficient time to physically prepare for the tournament.
South Africa's decision to withdraw entirely has been attributed to player welfare concerns and uncertainty surrounding government travel regulations amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, though the latter is believed to have been progressing positively.
The Springboks will now not travel to Australia to join the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas for the scheduled four nations event due to be hosted in Sydney and Brisbane from October 31 to December 5.
"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," Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos said in a statement.
"That said, this now presents us with a unique opportunity, in this our 25th year, to close off 2020 with a fully-fledged Tri-Nations competition. Sanzaar recognises the challenges and adversity that the national unions have had to face this year due to the pandemic. It is a tribute to the unions in how they have been able to adapt and, dependent on Covid restrictions, run domestic competitions with the exception of Argentina who has been impacted the hardest through their lockdown."
Without the Springboks, the All Blacks are scheduled to meet the Wallabies in Sydney and Brisbane on October 31 and November 7 following Sunday's Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park.
After their November 7 test against the Wallabies, the All Blacks will meet the Pumas twice, which is split with a bye week. The All Blacks' final match against the Pumas is on November 28 and they will then return home for quarantine.
Player welfare is a genuine concern for South Africa with their domestic competition, Super Rugby Unlocked, only restarting on October 10.
The Springboks, therefore, always felt significantly disadvantaged compared to New Zealand and Australia's competitive domestic seasons and Bledisloe tests preparation.
The Pumas are, however, expected to front for tests after playing two Australian state sides in warm up fixtures following quarantine.
South Africa are also thought to have found complications getting leading players out of Europe with the coronavirus re-emergence and the cost of underwriting club insurance heightening risk.
Ultimately, with the British and Irish Lions tour looming next year the Springboks were wary of damaging their world champion lure by travelling to Australia undercooked.
The Springboks could now go 20 months, from their World Cup triumph in Tokyo last November to next July, without playing an international fixture.
From a financial perspective, South Africa is thought to be in a reasonable position, well backed by sponsors and broadcaster SuperSport, with the Lions windfall to try safeguard.
It's not yet known how the Boks' exit will affect the tournament's bottom line but the significant reduction in matches is likely to see all four nations take financial hits.
SA Rugby boss Jurie Roux thanked Sanzaar and Rugby Australia for "bending over backwards" to make the Rugby Championship happen.
"It would have been unfair on them and their partners and state government to delay a decision any longer. This is a hugely disappointing outcome for supporters and commercial partners but the ongoing 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 first two Rugby Championship matches involving the All Blacks and Wallabies will double up as the final two Bledisloe Cup series clashes.
The new schedule is:
October 31: All Blacks v Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney).
November 7: All Blacks v Australia (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane).
November 14: All Blacks v Argentina (Bankwest Stadium, Sydney).
November 21: Argentina v Australia (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle).
November 28: All Blacks v Argentina (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle).
December 5: Australia v Argentina (Bankwest Stadium, Sydney).