Freelance Boks are toast

Daryn Katz

The Springboks’ attention is divided because they serve multiple masters. The All Blacks don’t employ overseas-based players. Their absence is countered by a collective single-mindedness and there’s a streamlined path that runs from local franchise to the national side.

Check out this All Blacks pack: Moody, Coles, Franks, Retallick, Whitelock, Cane, Squire and Read. With the exception of Liam Squire (Chiefs, Highlanders) each of these All Blacks have only played for one NZ Super Rugby franchise throughout their careers.

Now the backs: Aaron Smith, Barrett, Ioane, SBW, Crotty, Naholo and Ben Smith. Waisake Naholo played a bit for the Blues before moving to the Highlanders and Sonny Bill Williams (a unique case) crossed codes from League to Union and played all over the map. The rest have stayed with their original franchises.

Look past the considerable Test experience of this starting XV. Note that nine of them – closing in on 10 – are centurions for their franchises.

Bear in mind how sabbaticals are offered to top-tier All Blacks to ensure their optimum physical and mental longevity. They don’t have to worry as much as they could about burnout or about where their next paycheck is coming from. They are singularly driven, epitomised by how connected they are on the field.

Now let’s look at the cream of South Africa’s crop:

It’s telling that Tendai Mtawarira and Siya Kolisi are the only centurions for their respective franchises.

Eben Etzebeth has played more for the Springboks than he has for the Stormers. He’s toiled for Japan’s Red Hurricanes and was forced to turn down stints at Saracens and Bristol due to concussion.

Franco Mostert’s spent a few seasons with the Ricoh Black Rams during Super Rugby’s downtime. Did fatigue and a pending move to Gloucester impact his Mendoza performance? Does he subconsciously already have one foot on the plane?

Warren Whiteley has also been stretched by Japanese commitments. Did inadequate rest contribute to his absence in last year’s Super Rugby final and for most of this year’s competition?

Duane Vermeulen was Toulon’s captain, committed to their cause. He’s just arrived at the Kubota Spears and Rassie Erasmus has apparently sent out an abrupt SOS in the hope that Vermeulen can face New Zealand in Wellington. Surely this flip-flopping breeds instability?

Were Faf De Klerk and Willie Le Roux subliminally operating in first gear last weekend to preserve themselves for the All Blacks clash before being thrust into an already rumbling Premiership?

Damian De Allende injured his ankle while playing for the Kintetsu Liners and he’s since struggled to regain his fine 2015 form. Upon returning home, he said: “I played a lot of matches last year and had four days off before going to Japan. I arrived on the weekend and had to be on the training field by the Monday. To get no rest, took its toll on my body.”

Handre Pollard has also played in the East. On day one of training back at the Bulls, he tore knee ligaments side-lining him for an entire year. He has subsequently been plagued by multiple injuries and, like De Allende, has battled to find consistent form.

Experience allows me to appreciate what it’s like to split work focus; how it has the potential to affect quality of performance, hamper durability, and erode confidence.

Imagine if SA players didn’t need to supplement their income and exhaust themselves by consistently being pulled in different directions, having to play throughout the year in multiple countries, amid various competitions, for different clubs.

What if Erasmus didn’t need to spend so much energy negotiating for the release of certain players? How does a team build consistency and ingrain assurance when it’s never entirely sure who will join the squad and when? What does it do to the group psyche to have the likes of Bismark Du Plessis and Frans Steyn pull out of a Test series at the 11th hour?

Isn’t the compounding stress of this lack of structured and sustainable continuity – more than a supposed dearth of skills, increased physical rivalry, and the need to meet challenging transformation targets – what is primarily undermining the Springbok cause?

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Follow Daryn: @KatzDaryn

- Daryn Katz

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    Not wanting to get into a race debate at all, but really the white kids face employment equity, where their chances of playing at National level are narrowed by 50%.
    The alternative is to play overseas, in a safe environment, get to see the world, oh, and urn four times as much.
    Not much of a race is there!
    Changing structures will not fix this!

    • MatyMak

      It’s always a race issue when it comes to the Springboks, ALWAYS. funny thing is when they win this topic miraculously disappears from our memories. It’s only when they lose we suddenly get reminded there are black people who are messing up your precious sport

    • Wesley

      Oh yes, and the dark skinned among the players stay here at all costs? Its money, thats the pure reason the guys leave or stay. Please put your race glasses away Barry.

      • JvR

        Sure Wesley. Tell yourself money is the only reason.

      • Barry Smith

        No Wesley, there are two key motivators. The first is to play for your country. It is every school boys dream and most will forego hardship and lower pay packages to avhieve that! Let’s not pretend or make light of that honour!
        Where players are excluded through racial biased, they look at the next best option. That simple.
        I am advocating non racial selection, so what sunglasses are you referring to?
        The reality is that whilst we have a racial selection policy, there will be people that are negatively affected and they will simply move on, as countless hundred already have!

        • Zulekha Kunene

          But white players are still at an advantage is you think about. There are about 5 million white males and there are about 4 million coloured males and there are about 23 million blacks males. That means on average a white player still has a better chance to make the bok team than a colored and black player.

          • SweetAz

            How many of those 23 million black males WANT to play rugby to the extent that they play for clubs every Saturday. The day someone comes and shows that the same portion of all the population groups are actually PLAYING the game I will happily countenance PROPORTIONAL representation at lower levels with MERIT being the only criteria at higher levels.

        • Wesley

          Who exactly is being excluded from national colours based on race Barry, JvR? Names some names, get to the point. Because all I see are players that may / can’t hack it, regardless of race, in the Bok squad. I will name some names if you want me to. Think I have many times over in many comments over the past few weeks.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Well said Sir, Cheers.

    • Johan

      To be honest, we can ignore the quota system.

      Habana playing in “France, for Toulon, is(was) paid an annual salary of £474,600 (R10.7 million) by his club”
      Faf earns R21 million over 3 years…

      The problem is why would you stay in SA, earn less money, political instability, crime etc…
      No structure changes are going to fix this.

      Rugby is following the same path as soccer

      How are international teams chosen in soccer?

      Look at world champions France:
      Hugo Lloris – Tottenham
      Raphaël Varane – Real Madrid
      Olivier Giroud – Chelsea
      Paul Pogba – Manchester United
      Samuel Umtiti – Barcelona
      Antoine Griezmann – Atlético Madrid

      It might not be a bad thing to get more international experience, the completions up north has also caught up to super rugby in quality compared to a few years ago.

      – Instead of having to make up money by playing both Lions and Japan, Mostert will get some rest in the off-season while plying his trade overseas…

      • BigLaboosh

        I agree with you, but with the caveat that World Rugby needs to move to a global season/calendar. As soon as this happens, you will not run into the issue where NH players are struggling to commit to the Boks out of fear they compromise the position at their clubs.

      • Andrew

        We are continually working to keep our players in SA.
        Brazil is one of the best football nations yet all their best talent plays in Europe. Is being an exporting sports nation a bad thing?

  • Gary Brown

    We need to pay players more…. Problem solved. saru sort it out. And don’t give me this currency nonsense. The 2 teams playing in the Euro comp should surely be be earning higher wages since they are now getting euros from the broadcasters…. Or have the guys negotiating these deals been pocketing the profits…

    • Wesley

      The quicker we leave SR the better financially. Its the only way we can keep things sustainable. This half here, half there with Pro 14 and SR leaves the SA rugby public confused. Take the leap already. And it is true the Cheetahs are well positioned financially. They did not take a knock at all, were facing trouble but now earning their piece in the Euro pie. Kings will do better now that they are in control of their own finances, but will take time. Alexander himself admitting it is better for players. Heres my suggestion… Play Currie Cup early in the year, make it a full blown strength comp with 2 divisions as they are now with promotion relegation and with our best deserving Bok colours leading up to a international incoming tour vs the North. Then into RC playing our Southern counterparts finishing before September. Then play Pro14 until the next CC with a break. Most likely will work better with an international season but that should be coming soon. Hopefully….

      • Glenn

        Well said Wesley. I have been advocating a break away from SANZAAR and a new competition with the Northern Hemisphere for more than a decade. SANZAAR structures are not good for SA rugby and we are consistently on the bad side of decisions and calls. NZ rugby is deemed to be so strong but thats because of a system which has been in place since 1995 which has favoured them consistently creating a winning mindset in NZ and a losing mindset in SA. We need to dump them. Their own media is of the opinion that should SA rugby pull out of SANZAAR then All Blacks rugby will not survive three years. I say pull out. Enough of cheating All Blacks and blatant one sided refereeing! If anyone thinks I’m a whinging sore loser then just look how the Bulls and the Stormers had their home ground advantage against NZ teams negated this past SR season where NZ refs were flown in to ref those games. I have never seen any SA team be accorded that privilege while playing in NZ! If NZ are so hot currently then why do they need all the ref assistance they can get? Witness the first test AB’s played against France where a French player is unfairly yellow carded in first half where World Rugby took the unprecedented step of saying it should not even have been a penalty let alone a card, yet the AB’s carry out a potentially life threatening “mugging” (because it was so foul it cannot be called anything else) on a French player in the second half and dont even get penalised! There are just way too many excesses by NZ rugby that has been overlooked all this time to such an extent that even NZ media are questioning why the AB’s seem to be always favoured by the refs.

        • SweetAz

          Well spotted Glen. In NZ it’s even more obvious, I well remember a Stormers game in Palmerston North where the linesmen would peel off an extra 10 meters for every kiwi kick and do the opposite for the SA side. The same went for the offside line,—only policed for the visitors. I was so angry my wife told me to stop watching rugby before I popped a blood vessel.
          The so-called “line-balls” is another kiwi invention, everyone else calls it a forward pass. Same with “line-speed”, everyone else calls it offside. Then don’t even get me started on the “culture” of “playing to the ref”. According to kiwi’s everyone does it, BUT what they actually do is cause as much mayhem and chaos all over the place with running lines and off the ball play no ref in the world could possibly catch it all,—-the Puma’s last weekend emulated this. In their own Red Zone, anything goes.
          Most other teams in the world are trying to play to the Laws of the game, so its a bit of a disadvantage when your opponents care less about the laws and more about being caught.

        • Wesley

          Glenn i can agree with your winning and losing mentality but not sure as to call the reasons for it cheating as such. Subconcious favoritism perhaps? My deal is more with what goes on off the field, in the boardrooms and in the bank accounts. We should look after our own, be more ruthless in securing our future. Northern rugby is thriving, perhaps not historically being the best in the world constantly like NZ and Aus, but the game is dying even in NZ on a local level. NPC doesnt even attract much crowds and sponsorship, anymore and now Currie Cup is becoming just as nothing like they are. But Premiership, Top14 etc is pumping and feeding into the Euro Champs becoming richer and richer poaching players the world over. It may not seem like the honourable thing, but talk about honour when you are pulling a million euros a year for a career you may only be able to play possibly 10years max.

        • Ernest

          Well said so true
          All the 50/50 calls go nz way
          They get away with off the ball tactics,off side calls
          This will mever chamge ,leave sanzar and their refa behind and go play for some euros

      • Stephen

        What competition are our franchises supposed to play in? turn Pro14 into Pro18 and have the same fiasco as the SuperRugby two years ago.

        • SweetAz

          Rugby can just look to follow Football and have several divisions, running from 3rd division up to a Premier League with promotion and relegation. Let’s face it, Southern Kings are not really a Pro14 team anyway, they and Zebre really need to play in a lower division.

        • Wesley

          Well i dunno Stephen, create a new one? Filter into French or English leagues? Divide and conquer when those not happy in their current deals as it were with the French and English few years ago. Its up to those that get paid the big bucks in SA Rugby to come up with a viable gameplan, with a meriad of market, business and wheeling dealing expertise, yet here we are…. Still sucking up to NZ rugby, swigging our brandy in our exec suites on gameday, not having a clue why people are leaving the game in droves, and believe all is well. Time to be bold.

      • Wesley

        O yes and end of year outgoing tour… Forgot, or actually chose to, seeing how dismal the last 2 were… Hehe

        • Dean

          If we break away from Sanzaar they won’t include us in the RC anymore.

          • Dean

            We don’t know if the European unions will ever invite us to be part of the 6 nations. It took 100 years for Italy to be included LOL. The best option is certainly not swopping one Hemisphere for the other. If we do that, we will just be swopping one for the other and still sitting with the same issues. The Cheetahs and Kings have not fared any better in the Pro14 than Super Rugby. They both recently lost a host of key players last season to overseas clubs. Financially, how much of a benefit? The Kings are still being looked after by SARU. If the Cheetahs are so financially stable then why can’t they afford to hold onto their coaches and players alike. The so called financials and incentive to play in Europe (with the better time schedule) certainly didn’t help them to hold onto the likes of Raymond Rhule, Sergeal Peterson (both back playing Super Rugby), Rory Duncan, Blommetjies, Cassiem, Zeilinga, captain Francois Venter etc. Let’s say we defect to Europe. There’s a chance the Springboks will not play in either the RC or the 6 nations. It’s a massive gamble. Also, no indication that the Top 14 and Premiership, solely home based competitions, will include any of our franchises. No proof of the financial gain for SA rugby or keeping their players here. They are in double the debt they were the previous year, this is one year from including 2 teams in the Pro14. No proof that our teams will fare any better in the Pro14 than they are doing in Super Rugby. Only a limited number of teams qualify to make the Heineken Cup. I can’t see any of our franchises, bar the Lions making it right now. I cannot see the like of the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls currently besting the likes of the Scarlets, Munster and Leinster. It will be more of the same.

          • Greg Shark

            Boks might get invited then to join 5 Nations?

          • Wesley

            Well then thats their problem, not ours… They can vie for our time and money then and not force us to hand it over…

  • Herman Schroder?

    Daryn Katz a very well presented article which feeds into the core of our problems. There are others of course just as relevant.

    In the short term however, even right now, overseas players should not be considered for the Boks. You correctly mention the AB system of continuity which breeds world class players. Team culture is built on that continuity and with that come all the other factors that make a team highly successful.

    In our case we have these ‘occasional Boks’ from overseas being picked sometimes at very short notice. Often, like Faf and Willie, they get shunted around by their club owners between tests to fill their club obligations. I mean Vermeulen being brought in for the NZ game is absolute nonsense and shows that Rassie is fast losing the plot. Kolbe another case in point.

    How can one possibly expect the Bok team to gel under these circumstances. Throw in the transformation factor to further complicate the issue then it’s no wonder we are on the slippery slope to extinction. Build from within starting right now because at this rate the WC next year is already beyond our reach.

    • DK

      Thanks Herman.

      There are indeed a myriad of issues needing to be addressed.

      But the Boks brainstrust did well to lure back Kitshoff, much like Os and Percy were enticed to return to play for local franchises. Imagine if resources and planning are put into effect to make this type of scenario more of a viable reality for all involved.

      Ideally, by now the likes of Ashley Johnson, Marcell Coetzee, Jaco Kriel, Duane Vermeulen, Pat Lambie, Francois Steyn, Johan Goosen and Willie Le Roux should all be centurions for SA franchises, well looked after, and content to continue playing for them.

      Sadly, this isn’t the case.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Thanks for replying Daryn, feedback on these forums is always appreciated. I have no problem with players coming back full time to play Franchise rugby but still believe that valuable game time taken up by the mercenaries is not the ideal way to develop a culture driven consistent Bok team. I see the negative side of this already in the Boks’ inconsistent performances so far this year. Cheers.

  • Eugene

    Let’s accept that the exchange rate will never improve under the ANC Government. So money will always be an issue. Part of the problem is that we cannot effectively compare local super rugby players to those playing in Europe. So the notion to move away from super rugby systems may make some sense. If our teams can join one or more of the major competitions not all necessary in same competition in Europe, we have a better change of comparing SA players with each other and there is an added benefit of the traveling issue over better time zones ?

  • SweetAz

    Sorry to be the party pooper here, but you guys are all confusing cause and effect. Trying to fix the consequences and failing to CORRECTLY identify the CAUSE of the problem.

    This whole issue was predicted originally when the Amateur era ended and we became Professional, its why Rugby was one of the LAST sports to embrace professionalism. At the time us older people all looked at European football, saw the power of the clubs and predicted quite presciently that the same would happen to rugby.

    AND SO IT CAME TO PASS.—–There is actually nothing wrong with it and it is actually manageable and good for the game except for ONE GLARING ANOMALLY……..—-FRIGGIN NEW ZEALAND—–No other country has this continuity.

    I live in NZ, it is a pimple on the arse of the world with very little reason for anyone to go to, to play rugby or anything else. It does have some things going for it, like a low crime rate, Hobbits etc, but I won’t go into that. New Zealand had the most to lose by becoming professional so they came up with a clever plan,—Building the AB brand and Central Contracting, in effect they continued to run rugby in NZ exactly the way they did in the Amateur Era, the result is that the whole country is almost like a single giant club. It is the reason you see the continuity and success that Darryn alludes too. It is the most important factor in any team sport, continuity leading to the kind of cohesion you see in their teams.

    SO HOW DO WE FIX THIS? Its quite obvious to everyone (except a kiwi) that this is an unfair advantage as no other country can AFFORD to run this system, and therein lies the answer. AFFORDABILITY. South Africa is actually the creator of this situation and like a battered wife we keep running back to it. Upon re-admission, we had no one to play with and were desperate to become part of the scene again, like the poor little rich kid new to the school who will do anything to suck up to the bullies we were quite happy to bend over and get rogered from behind if only they would play with us AND SO SANZAR was formed and every kiwi administrator’s eyes filled with $$$$$$$ signs and his CD player became stuck on HALLELUJAH. Salvation for NZ rugby appeared on a white horse with TV deals and Chequebooks full of Rands from a gullible South Africa.

    WE PAY FOR THE SUCCESS, CONTINUITY AND COHESION of NZ rugby,——-take away that money and like EVERYBODY ELSE they will just have to put up with their players being lured to the overseas clubs and just like everybody else they will have to deal with the same problems. The way to do this is to have a global rugby season that NZ will just have to find a way to FIOFO. South Africa can do this because we are basically on the same time as Europe. Arsetralia and NZ can’t, but in effect its only a problem for NZ as rugby in OZZ in a 4th or 5th rate sport anyway. The global season will allow players freedom of movement but also an OFF season to recuperate

    The playing fields will once again be level for everyone and the tail can stop wagging the dog from NEW ZEALAND.—–at the same time World Rugby can tell the kiwi’s to keep the haka for home games and stop imposing their offensive facial gestures and shouting upon cultured people.


    • Wesley

      Well done Sweet, so so true, the power of NZ rugby is a aura only, as doing anything for World Rugby of actual material value is absolutely minimum. Yes the team has fans across the world that jump on the best team bandwagon without actually having any personal connection to the country or brand (think Liverpool, Man U, etc.) but so does a country like Ireland (think of the Chicago game as example, the Irish heritage Americans came out in droves, which was a great idea, unlike the stupid SA Wales game in DC). It should be about what you actually bring to the table, and even though people might think we shite, we actually bring a ton in television rights, most of all the southern hemisphere countries. We are carrying SANZAAR. The money is up north. Why we keep hanging on with the poorer countries that treat us like crap anyway in world rugby is beyond me.

  • Mawanda Mpiti

    I always laugh when people start using the quota system and race before putting their points about rugby. If I’m correct all the black (non white) springboks are merit selections. I have always said our internal systems are internally flawed. We keep referring to New Zealand rugby. Their system works because of their contracting. In most cases every player in the all black radar knows where he is in the pecking order. We already know Sam Cane will be the next all black captain. We had no clue who the bok captain would be until the last moment. We know who will take over when Beauden Barret gets injured. We don’t have a clue who will start at the bok 10 next week. Get a proper system in place and we will do fine.

    • SweetAz

      Mate, I always laugh when non-white people are in denial about the quota system,—I urge you to watch these video’s on Youtube by Rugga-Bugga starting with this one, these are international High Schools playing in a tournament. There is a whole series, I urge you to watch them and note 3 things.
      1. The Composition of the most successful schools—-look at Grey College for a start.
      2. The fact that our Top Schools BEAT THE BEST FROM NZ AND ELSEWHERE.
      3. THEN,—take a note of the composition of our National age group teams and just how shit they are and ask yourself WHAT the hell happened to those brilliant kids you just saw in this tournament? Why aren’t they playing for our country? When Grey College can give Christchurch Boys High a bloody hiding but only 2 or 3 of their kids make the National age group team, don’t come here and talk k*k about merit selections, you wouldn’t recognize merit if it jumped up and smacked you in the face with a spade.

      • Wesley

        Calm down there Sweet. Look at the NZ national system when those Christchurch boys step out of school and into the proper national system. Thats the difference. And nothing to do with race, its the system. Not of what the player has in natural ability, but in terms of coaching and contracting that bring the best out of them. Thats the point Mawanda is making I believe. And you say its race based and biased toward black players, leaving talented white players behind? I say bull. Example: Dyantyi. Go check his story. Too small, they said, not good enough they said. Usual crap this country has with its big bully mentality that is driving black AND white players out the system. He got fed up, rather went and studied. Took a friend asking him to play a pickup game of touchies and a invite to play for his Res at varsity that got him back into the fold. And one CHANCE meeting with a former black player turned coach set him up to become one of the best raw talented individuals this country has seen since the likes of Habana. Quota you say? Bull…

  • Dean

    The European clubs offer NZ players ie Barrett, Ben Smith way more than our players, yet they still stay in NZ. It’s not necessarily only about the money. The players want to play for the All Blacks for as long as they are good enough. It’s testament to how well looked after their players are and the system in place. The sabbaticals and central contracting system allows them to feel secure in the system. We need to implement something similar.

    A contracting system with far less (which SARU is finally cutting half their professional player contracts) is the only way. After that they should cut the number of professional unions they are currently funding in SA. 14 is far too many! Combine them to 6, much like franchise cricket in SA. Put all your best resources, coaching, financial and players into those franchises. The best play professional, the rest compete at amateur level, like the Vodacom Cup or call it the Currie Cup if you like. It won’t stop players leaving SA but at least we can then try to lure our best players and coaches back to be a part of these new branded franchises.

    Market those franchises, not as being from a particular province, with a new name and branding. SA rugby really need to find a way to market the game better for South Africa. Maybe something new and fresh can help spark the interest. Somebody recently wrote an article about playing games in other countries with strong economies. ie. an exhibition game with one of the new branded SA teams vs the Saracens in Tokyo, Japan or Vancouver, Canada. Rugby on the whole needs a reboot. The IPL and the introduction of T20 did that for cricket. Football always has exciting competitions going on, club level and international. Rugby has gone stale.

  • Al

    When you read that SARU had a turnover of over One Billion rand and still made a loss – thats where the problem is right there!

    1,000,000,000 Billion – thats enough to pay 500 players over 1 million a year and still have about 500 Million to spend on running the business. Bigger businesses turnover less!

    Everyone talks about the lure of the Euro, I would be pretty sure that the TV rights etc would be negotiated in USD not Rand and that is why New Wealand can keep their players and we have a bigger population and bigger stadiums than New Zealand so money should not be the massive problem that it is.

    SARU need to restructure their organisation but they wont because the fat cats make too much money, and as long as we all blame the weak Rand, politics, Quotas,(which do have an impact but are not the primary source of the rot) then I am sure the bosses at SARU will be quite happy because we the fans will be pointing figures at each other instead of holding them who are the trustees of the Boks to account.

    Who are they ultimately accountable to?

    • Al

      New Zealand apologies for the typo

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