Euro cap to boost SA rugby

Matt Evans

In some ways, South African rugby mirrors the economy, dealing in exports based on the relative weakness of the Rand. But the landscape may soon shift, with proposed changes to European competitions set to curb the demand for foreign players.

With France, Wales and Ireland already looking at caps on foreigners, and Japan to follow, there will be fewer jobs for players looking to hire out as tacklers-for-sale.

In France, where around 250 of the 600 players in the Top 14 are foreign, the crackdown is coming from rugby head Bernard Laporte. His goal is to set a cap of five expat players per matchday squad. And, for the first time, punishment for infringing may finally be severe enough to force change – instead of fining the millionaire club owners, Laporte wants to dock the club competition points. That leaves sunny England as an option for the Foreign Legion, but for how long?

The Toulon vs Montpellier game last week was a case in point. Montpellier has 12 South Africans on their books at the moment and four started the match alongside two Georgians, two Fijians and a Kiwi.

That’s nine foreigners in the starting line-up. South Africans who were unavailable included: the Du Plessis brothers, Jacques du Plessis, Jan Serfontein and Frans Steyn. If club owner Mohed Altrad was facing a fine measured in log points for fielding too many expats, it would make no sense for him to invest heavily in such a big group of foreigners.

With those doors closed, a return to South Africa would become the only option for upwards of 200 players, ramping up the competition for a contract with one of the SA Super Rugby or Pro14 franchises.

Consider the Cheetahs or Kings’ Pro14 challenge being boosted by the likes of Robert Ebersohn and Johan Goosen. The Kings, who have lost the likes of former captain Steven Sykes to Oyonnax, Chris Cloete to Munster and Cornell du Preez to Edinburgh, could expect to receive back an arsenal of players with European experience.

The Kings’ offer of continued European exposure would be a drawcard for those returning players, and they could be joined by Anton Bresler, Wynand Olivier or Dewald Potgieter who have roots in Port Elizabeth.

The effect would be massive, sparking huge competition for Springbok places and filtering down to intensify SA’s lower-tier competitions while also ensuring that the country’s emerging talent would be mentored by men with extensive professional careers.

Suddenly Sbu Nkosi is be learning from World Cup winner JP Pietersen, and Robert du Preez and Curwin Bosch are taking lessons in playing fullback and flyhalf from one of the finest in the business, Frans Steyn.

And what if Roelof Smit at the Bulls could get lessons in poaching from master-thief Heinrich Brussow? Think of a weaponised Ramone Samuels or Zain Davids interchanging numbers 2,6 or 8 and mentored by Ashley Johnson.

And the value and intensity of Super Rugby would increase with our Australasian counterparts certain to be boosted by returning talent.

Having high-calibre players back in the arena would increase viewership and drive money back into the sport and, most importantly, the immigration would shift the balance of rugby power from the north back to the south, where it belongs.

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- Matt Evans

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  • Barry Smith

    Thanks good read. Though I think this is may be a little over simplistic! As things are SA Rugby are facing financial frailties, mirrored by most Unions. There simply is not enough money here to sustain a further 300 plus players! So those currently employed either here or in Europe would likely face the sack! There are probably only 20 to 30 overseas based players that would make the cut at Super Rugby level and even fewer that could play at National level! We often put forward names of overseas based players, based on form from three or four seasons back. A good point was the Montpellier match you mention – Thor was looking quite chubby!

    • Dean

      “There are probably only 20 to 30 overseas based players that would make the cut at Super Rugby level and even fewer that could play at National level!” Not true!

      Bernard le Roux, Braam Steyn, Huw Jones, Quinn Roux, CJ Stander, Brad Barritt, WP Nel, George Kruis, Don Armand, Richardt Strauss, Josh Strauss and Cornell du Preez have all played regularly for the Northern Hemisphere Nations. Some are key players.

      Coaches – Jake White, Dawie Theron, Johann Ackerman, Alan Solomons, Frans Ludeke, Owen Mounemaine, JP Ferreria, Johan van Graan and Heyneke Meyer. They would all add value and experience.

      Look at articles and you will see weekly that South Africans feature prominently as some of the best players in European leagues. Britz is rated as the best hooker in the World by the English experts. Goosen won Top 14 player of the season not so long ago. Kolbe, Johnson, Willie Le Roux, Faf de Klerk, Ruan Ackermann, Chris Cloete and a whole bunch of other players are rated very highly by their clubs and the leagues there. Think about ex-SA schools and Under-20 players ie. Jacques du Plessis, Pierre Schoeman, Nicolaas Janse V Rensburg, Paul Willemse and quite a few more lost to SA rugby. Before these guys left they were all the best in their positions at franchise and provincial level.

      “There simply is not enough money here to sustain a further 300 plus players!”
      Yes, but SA rugby should central-contract the best 250-300 players. All the money has been wasted on having too many provincial unions who have too much power. Have 5 franchises with your best and pay them to stay. The other provincial unions should act as feeder unions to the top 5. They could also loan players out to overseas clubs for a season at a time, to give them exposure and make some money. Quality over quantity is the only way forward.

      Here’s an article for your reference
      Have a look at the scrumhalves and flyhalves listed. All those players were featured regularly in our Super Rugby team’s matchday 23.

      • Taufeeq

        I think the overly simplistic part is that if there are caps on overseas players, that doesn’t mean that the Overseas teams will drop ALL of them, sending 200 players back. If I had F.Steyn in my squad, and I could only pick 4 foreign players in a run on 15 or starting 22, he’d be 1st on my teamsheet, followed by Bismarck, and Jan Serfontein, and my other overseas players would still be in my wider squad. So the reality is, our best overseas players will stay there, and some of the weaker foreign players may return, or go to other leagues which may accommodate them.

      • Barry Smith

        Uhmm Dean, Huw Jones is Scottish, not South African and CJ Standar has taken up Irish citizenship. It is one thing playing European club rugby well and quite another playing Super Rugby, That is why most top SR players finish off their careers in Europe to make a few Bob and have an easier time of it.

  • Mike Stoop

    How will you pay for another 200 professional players. If the door is closed it will simply mean that a career as a professional rugby player will be less attractive. Only a small number of new entrants will be drafted each year. Some of the most talented will have to opt out to concentrate on conventional careers. Instead of greater competition for places, there will be less competition.

    • Barry Smith

      Yes Mike agreed. However you look at it, there will be 200 jobs less than there are now!

    • Dean

      The idea should be to keep the best players and coaches in SA. The rest can leave or earn their way to the top by being drafted each season. Drafting is a great idea, same as how the US do with NFL. Rugby in SA should be run like a business, if you aren’t producing, you’re dropped.

  • hopeful

    If the door closes then what happens to the players that are excluded from teams due to quota fulfillment?

  • Louis

    Mark my words, in 5 years from now all our players will be heading to the States.

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