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.