Updated: Friday, 16 May 2014 10:37 | By Agence France-Presse

'Inevitable' Springboks will join Europe says Saracens chief

South Africa will join a European-based competition "sooner or later" because of the commercial demands of television, according to the chairman of English Premiership side Saracens.


'Inevitable' Springboks will join Europe says Saracens chief

Saracens chairman Nigel Wray during an interview with AFP in north London on May 13, 2014 - by Ben Stansall

At present, South Africa's main annual international event is the Rugby Championship, also including fellow southern hemisphere sides Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, with the European equivalent the Six Nations featuring England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

But while aware of the potential pitfalls for southern hemisphere rugby were South Africa to withdraw from the Rugby Championship, Saracens chairman Nigel Wray believes such a move is bound to happen.

"Clearly, sooner or later, South Africa will play with France, England, Ireland etc. because we are in the same time zone," Wray told AFP in an interview.

"At the moment, South Africa have to tramp over to a completely different time zone, which takes a long time to get accustomed to. 

"They play their games at the wrong time of day, at breakfast time, which is the worst TV time. 

"I don't know when, but it is inevitable the game will go like that. It's just so logical," added Wray who, speaking before world champions New Zealand's match against the United States in Chicago on November 1 was announced, also said "rugby should be played in the US, Boston on St Patrick's Day".

"If you play in Argentina (in the evening), I think English or South African time, you probably kick off about 11:00pm (2200GMT) or something like that.

"If I tell anybody we are going to open a shop in (London's) Marylebone High Street and are going to open from 11 at night until four in the morning, they'd think we were completely stark, staring bonkers."

- 'TV is the master' -

Given their deep-rooted history as one of rugby union's pre-eminent nations, Wray was under no illusions about the effect of a South Africa 'switch' on fellow southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and Australia in particular. 

"It's a problem for rugby, because that implies New Zealand and Australia will have to move towards Japan and Hong Kong to play in the same time zone, at the optimum television time. 

"Whether you like it or not, TV is the master."

Saracens have long had a close connection to South Africa, with Francois Pienaar, the Springboks' 1995 World Cup-winning captain, one of several players from the Republic to have played for the north London club where former Test centre Brendan Venter was also once the director of rugby.

Behind the scenes, former South Africa Rugby Union chief executive Edward Griffiths now holds a similar role at Saracens while, since 2008, Wray has split his ownership with Johann Rupert, a wealthy South African businessman.

"Johann Rupert and his family, they own 50 percent of the club, I own 50 percent of the club. It's been a fantastic partnership," said Wray, who had previously been in sole charge of Saracens since rugby union turned professional in 1995. 

"They've been incredibly supportive and I can't think of one South African player who has come to this club, who hasn't been a real gentleman. They are outstanding people and have made an outstanding contribution. 

"It's always great in life to have a partner, and to do things with people because being on your own is a lonely road," Wray added.

Meanwhile Wray also called on the Rugby Football Union to compensate Premiership teams for the fact they will have to "close down" during next year's World Cup in England, which will take place at what would normally be the start of the domestic top-flight season.

"The reality is we've got to close down in September/October or the best part of during the World Cup because that's the rules of the World Cup," he said. 

"If a factory or an office had to close down for two months, who pays the wages, who pays the bills? 

"The RFU should sort that out properly -- and haven't yet. Ian Ritchie (the RFU chief executive) is a decent man and, in all fairness, we should be able to reach an accommodation."

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