The South African Rugby Union (SA Rugby) has reaffirmed its commitment to the Rugby Championship for the next decade, tournament organisers SANZAAR said on Wednesday, bringing an end to speculation that the three-time Rugby World Cup winners may look to join Europe's Six Nations.
The four-nation SANZAAR alliance faced turmoil this year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with New Zealand Rugby at odds with SA Rugby and Rugby Australia over the future of the club-based Super Rugby competition.
SA Rugby withdrew its four major teams from any future Super Rugby competition in September, saying the Sharks, Bulls, Lions and Stormers would look to join Europe's PRO14; the union then withdrew the Springboks from the Rugby Championship, which is currently being played in Australia, because of player welfare concerns.
"The southern hemisphere rugby powers have recognised the need for change in these difficult times and have committed to an international rugby future through to 2030," SANZAAR said in a statement.
SANZAAR added that the entity would be restructured, as would domestic club/provincial tournament structures.
SANZAAR Chief Executive Andy Marinos said the commitment by the four unions was an important step.
"The re-commitment by the four unions to the long-term future of the international game is an important start as we embark in a new direction," Marinos said in the statement.
"The disruption during 2020 has been significant, however, despite the numerous setbacks and the inherent complexity of our vast geographical expanse, we have managed to keep the game alive."
The Rugby Championship will be restructured going forward to feature a 12-match format with teams playing each other on a home-or-away basis through the new mini-tour match schedule that was adopted in 2019.
SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux welcomed the changes announced and said "we are looking forward to see what the new strategic plan for the competition entails, with possible international expansion on the cards".
"Although we had to change our domestic focus, we still have a long history with the All Blacks and Wallabies as well as a long-standing friendship with the Pumas, and we look forward to more world-class Test rugby," Roux said.
"Ever since the Tri-Nations was first contested in 1996, and more recently the Rugby Championship from 2012, a team from the southern hemisphere has won the Rugby World Cup five out of six times -- which is testimony to the high quality of Test rugby played on this side of the equator."
New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were forced to organise domestic Super Rugby competitions this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they may have to do so again in 2021 with travel restrictions likely to remain in place.
Information from Reuters was used in this report