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Wray: South Africa will join Europe sooner or later

Saracens chairman Nigel Wray says South Africa will look North soon

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Article Published: Saturday 17 May 2014|

Saracens Rugby club chairman Nigel Wray says that South Africa will dump Australia and New Zealand and the Rugby Championship and join a European-based competition "sooner or later".

The Premiership club chairman says that because of the commercial demands of television and the money that comes with it South Africa will eventually leave their Southern Hemisphere partners.

At present, South Africa's main annual international event is the Rugby Championship, also including fellow southern hemisphere sides Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

The European equivalent is 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."

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.

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