World champions South Africa have pulled out of the four-team Rugby Championship in a decision taken over player welfare fears linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
The news means there will only be three teams, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, taking part in the event, which begins in Sydney on 31st October.
The Rugby World Cup winners were due to arrive in Australia ahead of a two-week quarantine period before the start of the tournament, however they will not now travel and will not play again in 2020.
On Wednesday, tournament organisers SANZAAR - the body which governs South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby - gave the team another 48 hours to agree participation.
South Africa Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said that one of the exacerbating factors in the decision was the fact that a number of players who would have been called up are currently playing with European clubs, where new lockdown regulations would have an impact on their ability to travel.
“With time essentially having run out, it left us with no option,” he said. “This is a hugely disappointing outcome for our supporters and commercial partners but the ongoing impacts of the pandemic in multiple dispensations means we are unable to deliver a Springbok team without seriously compromising player welfare.
“SANZAAR and Rugby Australia have bent over backwards to make the tournament happen and it would have been unfair on them, their partners and state government to delay a decision any longer.”
“Players in England, Ireland, France and Japan are subject to differing local regulations and travel protocols and potentially imminent renewed lockdowns in some territories.
“It was unclear when they would be able to become functioning members of the Springbok squad in Australia. We understand that public safety concerns come first and there’s no way that we could expect shortcuts to be found to get them out of their host countries and into the Springbok bubble.
“But the impact on our planning was profound and took us to a bottom line that we could not in fairness commit to being able to compete.”
The tournament will now host six Tests, all in Australia, and will see each of the three remaining teams play each other once.