Schalk Brits wants tax breaks for professional rugby players to be part of a solution to slow the exodus to more lucrative opportunities in the Northern Hemisphere.
“We will never be able to compete with the overseas contracts,” the Springbok hooker told Netwerk24. “But maybe there is a legitimate way to give tax relief to our players.”
Eben Etzebeth has been linked with a move to French giants Toulon after the 2019 Rugby World Cup on a deal that is expected to pay him in excess of €1m (R16m) per season. And the Sharks’ trio of Du Preez brothers, along with fellow Bok Jesse Kriel, are reportedly in line for juicy offers from English Premiership clubs.
Brits is aware that potential tax breaks would do little to persuade the likes of Etzebeth to stick around, but it’s the next tier of experienced players, who leave South Africa for less-enticing offers, that the journeyman hooker believes might choose to stay.
“We no longer have mentors in our rugby and it is a pity that so many of our players are playing overseas,” he said. “There are no more players in the middle level – you get the Springboks and then the young players who are taking their first steps in Super Rugby. The men who have to transfer the intellectual capital are overseas.”
Brits is walking proof of this – he’s got a good shot at winning the starting job at the Bulls at the age of 37.
“I only realized it later in my career, but in rugby terms you are still a laaitie at 24, and we want our players to take on Super Rugby at the age of 22, 23 or 24. It takes the experience of a few klaps and getting your head scrummed into your backside over the years to make you a hardened forward.”
These sentiments echo former Bulls head honcho, John Mitchell who, before trading Loftus Versfeld for Twickenham, said it was “a joke” to think that SA teams could contend for the Super Rugby title “with a few world-class and Super Rugby quality players”.
“We, as South African teams, simply don’t have squads that are of Super Rugby quality in its entirety,” Mitchell said. “Only when we start creating squads of Super Rugby quality overall will a South African team win the tournament. We’re creating a culture where we are putting young men in match situations they’re simply not ready for. It’s a reality and it talks on the scoreboard.”
“I always remember in 2005 how much I learned from the Cats in a short time,” added Brits. “Marius Hurter returned from Newcastle and I packed down between him and Os du Randt in the scrums. It was incredibly valuable.”
Part of the Bulls investment in Brits is based on the hooker sharing the experience of an 18-season career, including a decade at Saracens, with a young team.
“I wish I had gone abroad earlier. My game developed faster at some levels in the Northern Hemisphere. My lineout and scrum work improved a lot there. Take nothing away from Super Rugby, but the focus is much less on the set phases (than up north).”
— Staff Writer