Fantastic Beast and how to keep him

Gavin Rich

The outflow of players chasing foreign currency makes it seem unlikely that Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira’s record for the most Super Rugby caps will ever be matched, but there are things local administrators can do and there are potential changes underway – both here and overseas – that could change that negative outlook.

When the popular Sharks and Springbok loosehead ran out to face the Bulls in Durban on Saturday he equalled Adriaan Strauss’ record of 155 caps. The record will become Mtawarira’s own if he gets onto the field against the Lions in Johannesburg on Friday.

These days, the turnover of players and the length of stay at a particular union or franchise is such that the long-serving stalwart, like Mtawarira has been for the Sharks, is becoming a rarity.

But then maybe there is a lesson in Beast’s longevity in the local game, in the sense that he has been looked after in a way that perhaps more players could be once the professional playing pool has been diminished in the top provinces, as per the recent SA Rugby decree.

Many a player has spoken about long-term security when announcing a move to chase the Yen, Euro or Sterling overseas. One of the reasons Mtawarira has never been on the market for a move overseas has been because he has been well looked after by the security company run by former Sharks captain Wahl Bartmann. Mtawarira serves as an ambassador for the company.

Such an arrangement, with a long term role in the company once the players’ playing career is over, would complete a package for a prospective rugby emigrant to the northern hemisphere that would amount to far more than just the money offered and may make it attractive for them to stay.

A third-party agreement such as that was what kept several Australian players in that country a few years ago. At a time when there’s a growing concern about what happens to players who devote their entire lives to rugby from the moment they leave school – in fact even before that if you think about it – a sponsorship tied in with security at the end of a player’s rugby career is an innovation overdue.

Keeping players loyal to the local game will have massive benefits.

The Lions have provided evidence of the benefit of keeping a team together over a long period of time and building for success. Their feat of topping the South African conference in Super Rugby for three years in a row was built around the way the key players and combinations were able to stay together and grow during the couple of seasons when the Lions were considered low budget and their players weren’t high profile enough to be sought after by overseas clubs.

As it stands right now, with union’s short of cash and coffers running dry, you find yourself wondering if the coaches going forward will even be able to put in place a long-term plan like the Lions did. Four years has become a long time, and unless the union’s start offering long-term contracts, which most currently can’t afford to, succession planning will become even more of a challenge.

But changes on the way at home could make a difference, in the form of the more truncated player groups that are envisaged per the new contracting model which places limits on spend. Hopefully smaller groups, which means less mouths to feed, will mean more individualised attention and investment.

It is also starting to become probable that changes may happen overseas, where the penny is apparently dropping that too many foreigners in their leagues are having a negative impact on the national teams. Changes to the tax laws and greater awareness of them, possible amendments to World Rugby regulations and adjustments to the eligibility of outsiders to play in foreign leagues could all drive a dramatic change in the landscape, particularly if it is allied to the administrators back home making the new envisaged dispensation work.

If the cutting of the professional squads does bring the desired result of making more available to the fewer it can only be a positive. Although the retention of the next tier as an under-21 competition (rather than U20) is just dumb, as three years is too long for players to wait for provincial recognition after leaving school, the axing of the national under-19 competition is a big step forward.

I’ve been talking to many ex-Boks recently in the process of researching a book and one thing has been made clear – most players would much rather play in South Africa if they could. If there is more money available, and the working environment is good, there will be more chance of local rugby retaining it’s strength and the interest from the public that goes with it.

- Gavin Rich

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  • boyo

    The private company partnership model can work it worked for Jaques Botes who actually began work for the company( I think investments) whilst still playing.

    The smaller squads are a good move and as you suggest an u20 would be far more valuable than an u21 league as too many youngsters will leave straight after school rather than wait until 21.

    What will happen and It has pro’s and cons is that unions will pump money into a select few clubs which will then act as the uinons second sides. The pro is that it will be great for the club game the con is that the uinons will still be overspending on a large group of players

  • Chris

    Would we have enough positions open in SR if you brought all the (mostly white) players back from the EU/Japan ?
    Quota’s aren’t going away soon and I’d rather have a player play overseas and learn from a well developed couching system than quit the game in SA, because he cant find a spot in a SR team.

    Rugby isn’t the only profession where skilled people leave SA, because of the lack of opportunities.

  • Barry

    It is a knoble proposal, but as Chris, has just pointed out, it is not only the money or welfare that chases our players overseas. All facets need to be addressed, not just some, if we are to put this to bed once and for all!

    In the recent interview with Paul Willemse, on the eve of his first test for France, he explained that safety and security for his young family were prime factors in his move over seas.

    No less the outdated and frankly illegal racial selection policies that we are forced to endure.

    Finally, a fair and even handed National selection policy that sees form players, regardless of their Province or skin colour, given a fair shout at selection for the National side! Players that are continuously shunned exhibit the proverbial middle finger, by climbing on a plane to Europe!

  • John Comyn

    Any parent who encourages their children to play professional sport should be making sure they do not neglect a tertiary education especially if they want to play pro cricket or rugby. Very few make it at the highest level. We all think our kids are destined for international stardom but very few ever get there. I went to a presentation where Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton spoke about this issue and how many sports people fall by the wayside. I think it’s a great idea to integrate players into business during their sporting careers but they need to have something behind them that adds some value. At the Sharks they make them director of rugby, head coach, assistants assistant coaches, physio and physios assistant physio etc

    • Barry

      John it is a pitty that you were unable to contain your self – your post was almost sensible, but don’t be disheartened its an encouraging trend!

      Just as a point of clarity, the Sharks don’t have a director of rugby. They had a look around and realized it was a position entirely synonymous with bankruptcy!

    • SweetAz

      LOL,–At that rate, I’m sure “beasts” next job is going to be “assistant to the assistant security guard”. I like the guy but I haven’t rated him as a player for a long time, his best was probably in the John Smit era. It’s always so predictable.
      Beast gets the ball.
      Crowd shout “Beaaaaasssttttttt”
      Beast goes nowhere or gets tackled backwards and falls flat on his face.
      Next time he gets the ball, rinse and repeat.

      • Barry

        Sounds a bit like Britz, (6runs made 3m on Saturday) same decade, just way less caps, discipline, charm, integrity & sportsmanship, though he does have more red cards. Lol

        • SweetAz

          Yeah, but his team won……. You think you are doing so great now but you guys have yet to play in Australasia. The Stormers have got most of their away games out of the way now, you guys still have to play the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs AWAY.

          • SweetAz

            Ag Dean, It’s because of morons like you that SA is in the shit it’s in, I at least had enough sense to get my family to safety. I don’t hate SA, just the idiots that run it, enabled by d*ckheads like you. I can support who I want as can you, unfortunately, you don’t have much choice in the intelligence stakes. There is no cure for stupidity so I’m afraid that’s your lot in life. Now go play with your marbles or yourself.

          • Barry

            Well by then we’ll have Tyler Paul, Jean-luc Du Preez, Craig Burden, Ruan Botha and of course SA’s premier hooker back in service.

            We travel well, no prob. I think SA’s Only side to beat Saders in Christchurch. Only needed 14 men as I recall!

          • Dean

            You a real knob. Every comment you right just confirms it. Why dont you just follow NZ blogs, since you hate SA and ran there like a little girl.

  • Dean Bright

    Ag shame Dean, you jealous because some of us decided to seek a better life for ourselves and our families. What a chump.

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