Baby Bok selection? No thanks, mate!

New French recruit Paul Willemse got lucky via a loophole in the eligibility rules, but how long before SA players pass on Baby Bok selection in order to keep their international options open?

Willemse is the latest in a long list of South Africans playing for foreign countries. Think CJ Stander, WP Nel, Josh Strauss, Rory Kockott and many more…

The burly former Bulls lock is eligible to play for France despite playing for the Baby Boks – South Africa’s designated ‘next senior national representative team’ – in 2012.

Up until 2018, a player was tied to that country for life – thus unable to play for any other nation – as soon as they had played for the official 2nd team.

Willemse has slithered his way through a tiny loophole, though.

In 2012 the regulations stipulated that players would only be ‘tied’ to their home country if they had played against an opposing team that was also designated as that nation’s ‘second representative’ side. As fate would have it, only France and Wales had their U20 sides listed as their next senior national representative teams in 2012, and the Baby Boks did not play against either side!

As such, having joined Montpellier in 2015 and served the three-year residential period, Willemse is set to make his Test debut for France in next month’s Six Nations.

With that loophole now officially closed, how long before we see a young South African player passing on a Baby Bok selection in order to keep their international options open?

Granted, most players head to pastures greener for financial reasons, but with players departing South Africa not only for the money, but a better lifestyle given the country’s current socio-economic issues, might more of them want to keep their international options open?

One person who wants to make it a whole lot more difficult to play for a country other than the one of your birth is World Rugby vice-chairperson Agustin Pichot.

Pichot, who made 71 appearances for Argentina from 1995-2008, was instrumental in having World Rugby extend the qualification period for players to switch countries from three to five years living in their new country.

Late last year Pichot Tweeted the percentage of foreign born players in the top 11 rugby-playing nations. It had Scotland (46.3 %) on top, and South Africa and Argentina at the bottom (both on 0 %).

New Zealand were second from bottom on 12.5 %, while Japan (37.1), Italy (29.7), Australia (29.4), England (27.7), Ireland (26.1), Wales (24.3), France (12.9) are ranked from second to eighth.

- All Out Rugby

Let's chat

  • Barry

    The percentage of SA players finding their way into other National sides is so small that it doesn’t warrant Red Flag status!

    Of the players mention, only Stander and Willemse represented SA at junior level The others would not have been affected and would regardless be eligible for selection else where, as they have been.

    The social problems related to SA have already been well debated, but an issue that could be effectively addressed is the lack of planning and continuity at National level. Hopefully something that Erasmus will address in his new role as Director. Once glowing talent is identified at junior level, surely there should be a process in place to manage that talent through to the Senior side?

    • Chris Mouton

      One would hope, hey Barry? The same should be with coaches. I think it’s a shame that Dawie Theron hasn’t been approached yet regarding senior coaching positions in SA.

      • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

        I am told there is a reason for that, Chris. Not everyone is a believer, I hear. I have always enjoyed him as a coach, though. Perhaps after earning a few more stripes overseas, he will get utilised in SA. But that in itself is an issue. Why do Saffers have to go overseas to prove their worth? Get experience, yes, but not prove yourself …

        • Sharky

          In an ideal world SARU would sit down and talk to the top coaches in the country (Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Bok/Blitzbok) every year or so and help them each work out a 4 to 8 year (one to two RWC cycles) development plan. The very top coaches (i.e. the top 5 or so) should be made part of a succession plan – let them know where they are in the queue experiance wise, work out how the can/want to contribute to Bok rugby in the future, dsicuss what development steps they should consider to reach those goals (positions in local or internation franchises, international appointments etc).

          If we can start developing a conveyor-belt with the number 2 or 3 in line appointed as Bok assistant coaches we could keep momentum and continuity of culture and style rather than sweeping the cupboards bare and starting from scratch every 4 years.

          The talk about centrally contracted players but what about centrally contracted coaches?

          Just my humble opinion.

  • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

    Guys, my bad. I put the above story together and did not know that World Rugby had changed the regulations last year to state the following: “Unions may no longer nominate their U20s team as their next senior national representative team (effective 1 January, 2018) (majority)”.

    As such, for the above story to ring true, players would have to turn down selection to the SA “A” side, a side that does not often play. That may well change given the tweak to the eligibility regs, though. Or as per Barry’s comment above, perhaps not?

    Also, Tim Swiel has in fact already turned down a Baby Bok selection in order to keep his UK options open …

    The 36-month residency requirement (before playing for a nation in which you were not born) has been increased to 60 months, though – with effect from 31 December, 2020. Clearly driven by Pichot!

  • Barry

    Thanks Tank. So to understand then, if you have played for your home nation (Senior team) or for the SA A side, you can no longer opt to play for a second nation, even if you have endured the 60 months prescriptive period. However if you have played for the Under 20 National side you may play for another nation but only after the prescriptive 60 months?

    So if I understand correctly, young fringe players like Bosch, Peterson, Willemse, Du Preez x 3 are all off the international radar, because they have one test cap or more?

    • Martin

      That is 100% correct barry

      • nezo

        that is very nice. great news

  • Barry

    Thanks for clarity and confirmation Martin

  • Charles

    Wasn’t Beast Mtwarira born in Zimbabwe?

    Pretty sure that’s not 0% for South Africa.
    Can’t recall though if he played last year…

    • Johannes Zulch

      Pichot’s list was based on the end of year tour squads. Beast was not in the squad due to injury.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Good spot Charles. Beast was indeed born in Zim. Guess that one slipped below Pichot’s radar :)

      • nezo

        is Pichot wrong for advocating for 60 months. it seems like this is not welcomed news by you guys. even if Pichot made mistakes in his calculations but i would have thought that the main point of what he did would have resonated with you South Africans. or does it no matter that our players are playing for other nations. playing in other leagues. making other countries rich. we developed them here. they are ours.

        i would really want to hear what your thoughts are on what i am saying Mr Tank. i even hate the fact that our players are playing in europe but that is even understandable but to take players from other nations and make them your own. that is bad even if you have to play for 5 years to qualify. Nation is not like clothing where you can change it willingly. you have an obligation to contribute to the bettering of the nation that developed you. that is your home. where even your family is at.

        Mr Tank?

        • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

          I love where Pichot is going with this. Only play for the country of your birth. And if you move to another country for non-rugby reasons, then it is tough if you end up being a good enough rugby player to play international rugby. Make your money in your new country, and hope that your country of birth recognizes your talent at international level. And if you do move countries for rugby reasons, then you go for cash while forgoing your right to play international rugby. Legally though, I do not think you can deny a human being the right to earn a living, and playing international rugby could well be deemed that.

          • nezo

            Wow your answer surprised me my man. thumbs up. you said, “legally though”. every tax payers money contributes someway to any child born in any particular country they belong too. if therefore it takes a whole lot of citizens beside your family to help in ones development. i think every player owes it to that country to help develop its rugby by playing in its teams. one would debate that a player can play for any team he chooses based on who pays more. we can debate that but which country one should play for. that should be out of the Question. so the law that makes that legal is so wrong and i hope Pichot would keep up the fight to brake it

  • Baylion

    Who wrote this?

    The Baby Boks only became SA’s designated second team after the 2012 JRWC. Paul Willemse was therefore not “tied” to SA. No loophole.

    Even from 2013 players could play for the Baby Boks and still not be tied to SA provided they didn’t play against another designated second team (eg France). In 2017 WR decreed that merely playing in the JRWC, regardless of opposition status, tied players to SA (or any other country who had their u20s as designated second teams.

    From January 2018 WR decreed that the u20 sides cannot be used as a country’s designated second team any more

    • Baylion

      Apologies. I had the 2012 dates wrong.

      South Africa U20 from June 4, 2012 (South Africa A / Emerging Springboks prior to June 4, 2012). The 2012 JRWC started on 4 June

      However, with WR deciding to stop the practice of countries designating their U20 teams the SA A side has become SA’s designated 2nd team from 2018

      • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

        All explained in the column (how Willemse got lucky) and my comment above (how the U20 side can no longer be nominated). Cheers

  • Baylion

    Interesting case is that of Lions prop, Nathan McBeth.

    Scotland qualified through his grandfather he played for Scotland in the u20 6 Nations in 2018 and then for the Junior Boks in the 2018 JRWC. He’s is still eligible to play for either Scotland or SA

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