Sir Ian McGeechan has called for South Africa to join the Six Nations in a bid to raise the standards of the leading northern hemisphere sides.
In its current guise, the Six Nations comprises of teams solely from the northern hemisphere, with Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France and Italy all competing.
And while McGeechan believes the Springboks themselves will benefit from playing in the tournament, the Lions legend says the involvement of the reigning world champions would improve those currently involved in the Six Nations.
“South Africans are investing in our rugby, their top clubs are now playing in our competitions, and many of their best players are training and playing alongside Six Nations internationals every week,” he told The Telegraph.
“Playing with and against South Africans challenges you to become able to withstand their physicality, which is to the long-term benefit of the Northern Hemisphere game. You’ve only got to talk to coaches in New Zealand to understand the benefits of exposure to South African rugby. One of the reasons why the All Blacks have been so good in the professional era is that they’ve had to play South Africa multiple times each year. While the South African provinces have been weakened by so many players heading abroad, playing the Springboks regularly has kept New Zealand’s national team honest by mandating that they have to produce forwards who can stand up to the physical onslaught brought by South Africa.
“As well as the increasing numbers of South Africans playing in Europe, the links have also been ramped up by the inauguration of the URC, which will lead to further integration as their clubs gain access to the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup. And the fact remains that because we’re on the same time zone the momentum for further integration will grow quickly.
“The obvious next step is for some sort of integrated season which sees the Springboks join the Six Nations to make it the Seven Nations. Financially it is in the interests of everyone, and it will also be beneficial in terms of raising standards for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. The example of the British and Irish Lions shows it also has the potential to be embraced by supporters as well, with fans travelling down to South Africa for a long weekend.
“In the short term, I suspect the big winners of this growing closeness will be the Springboks in France in 2023 because when they play Ireland and Scotland in their pool games there will be none of the shock which the All Blacks experienced in Dublin and Paris this autumn. But, in the long term, it will raise the standards of European rugby and contribute to a more vibrant game, and that can only be a good thing.”