High rollers will buy SA players

Craig Ray

South Africa’s flow of players to leagues in Ireland, France and Britain has been steady over the past decade. It’s grown from a small brook into a mid-size stream, but that growing gush could become a raging torrent if a new proposal in the English game takes off.

This week it emerged that global equity firm  CVC Capital Partners have made a £275m (R5.2bn) proposal to buy a 51% stake in the Premier Rugby Ltd (PRL), the organisation that owns and runs the English Premiership.

CVC are the company that owned F1 for a decade and who made a huge success for the sport and for their own earnings during their venture into motorsport.

For this proposal to become reality, England’s top clubs would all have to agree to the deal, which will net them each £17m (R323m) in a once-off payment outside of existing broadcast deals and sponsorships.

Considering all but the Exeter Chiefs ran at a financial loss last year, and many clubs haven’t been profitable for years, this potential investment will not only save the English game, but also reinvigorate it.

Of course, the details of the proposal and the pound of flesh CVC will want to exact for their investment is not in the public domain yet. But make no mistake, if this deal comes off it will be a game changer for rugby in a similar way to Sky’s huge investment in English football in 1992 with the establishment of the Premier League.

There is also little doubt that a private controlling interest in English club rugby, already one of the top two most influential leagues in the world, would have massive ramifications for the southern hemisphere.

At this stage, details of the proposal are unclear but for an investment group to plough that much money into a league, its ambitions must be lofty. They’re not doing it for the love of the game.

CVC will want to make the Premiership the best league in the world. That means the best players and coaches, the best stadiums and marketing, and the biggest global audience.

They will renegotiate broadcast deals and look at new audiences as well as making believers of the current rugby establishment. And all of this hinges on having the best product, which itself comes back to the players and coaches.

For the PRL to become the rugby version of the EPL, first port of call will be New Zealand, South Africa and the Pacific islands for the best players.

New Zealand has for so long managed to hang on to its top players because of the power of the All Blacks. More money and a chance to play in a league with the best players will test that loyalty.

Initially, high profile names and established stars will be the focal point of selling the newly-branded league. Having Kieran Read, Beauden Barrett, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth and Brodie Retallick in action weekly would be key to short- and medium-term ambitions for a rich and highly ambitious league.

But in the long-term the consequences down south are even more worrying. Or not, depending on how we all react to it.

English clubs, or the PRL itself, might establish links with top South African and NZ schools, skimming off the cream of young players before they even have a chance to play for their school first XV.

Well-funded academies both in the southern hemisphere and in England could become the pathway for young players into the biggest league in the world with agents and mentors looking to send their best talent to the PRL rather than languish at home.

That scenario might still some way off, but change is coming. Ambitious clubs, owners and coaches, armed with fat wallets and exposure to the biggest global rugby audience, are going to be proactive.

They are not going to wait to sign expensive 22-year-old players when they can sign 100 talented teenagers and aim for a one-in-ten return on their relatively small investment.

If it comes off, and CVC lives up to its track record in F1, then the next generation of rugby player and fan, will be participating in, and consuming, an entirely new, highly professional product.

- Craig Ray

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  • DK

    Not sure if it’s the final one but it sure sounds like a driving nail into Super Rugby’s coffin…?

  • humblepie

    Losing players to the northern hemisphere is an unfortunate fact for RSA, NZ and Aus. We can do nothing about it. Sulking is not an option. This may sound harsh but it is reality. Negative news sells and we should brace ourselves that journalists will commit many more articles on this well visited topic. This topic also continues to be a useful excuse for local coaches whose teams perform below expectation. Let it be – the poor fellows need a relieve valve.
    However, the rugby fraternity and supporters must move on. It is not the end of the world. Let us open a discussion topic that look at the positives that we can take out of this and focus on actions how to adapt.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Regrettably here’s a negative one. How will Bok rugby cope with the outflow of players ? I have called for not including these mercenaries in the Bok setup full stop. You cannot build a team culture and continuity with players popping in at the behest of club owners and hope to compete with the best, especially if they form the bulk of your side. None of the other top countries do it. It took the AB’s many years to develop to the stage they are at right now, can we afford to be different ?

      On a more positive note Jantjies was picked at flyhalf for Saturday. One can’t get more positive than that, lol Cheers.

      • SweetAz

        Lets hope he gets a haircut before then otherwise it’s gonna irritate me for 80 minutes,-LOL.

      • John Comyn

        Herman – no pay no stay! Clearly money trumps country. We see it all the time. Your beloved Lions have been decimated and will struggle next year. Unless we want to end up as a 2nd tier test playing country we have no option but to choose from the overseas pool. Like Humblepie says we need to adapt and find a way of making it work.

        • Herman Schroder?

          I think that ship has already sailed, Ranked 7th in the world at the moment with 9 out of the next 11 tests to come against teams ranked some by more than 10 points above us. So far the overseas contingent have been just as patchy as the home boys so what’s different

          Adapting to the current failed system will involve building a team from within with a visionary coach and the Lions proved it can be done. In the final this year the Crusaders had 13 AB’s in their squad. The Waratahs who were thumped by the Lions in the playoff had 10 players in their RC team. The Lions thumped the Argentinians in their playoff, That was practically the same team that thumped the Boks last week. And by the way guess who was flyhalf every second in all those games, non other than the much maligned mighty EJ. Cheers.

        • Dean

          We are already a 2nd tier rugby nation, we are just too proud to admit it. 7th in the World, beaten NZ once in the past 6 years. Record losses to Ireland, Argentina and New Zealand. We’ve lost to every top 10 rugby nation in the past decade, apart from Fiji. Yet, we’ve lost games against Japan and Italy who sit just below them. We haven’t won Super Rugby for almost a decade.

      • Albert

        Jantjies inclusion is a positive for his fans and even bigger for his detractors, you know them, those that will blame this loss on 1 man.

        Now, I am neither for nor against Jantjies, but we needed a change from Head down Pollard. The bigger concern should be the centre pairing, Mr Crabs and Mr Crash. Jantjies will want to put them in space but they will either drop the ball or run directly into Messers Hooper and Pocock.

        • humblepie

          Good points Albert. In Faf and Elton we have explosive players that play shallow and with very good distribution skills. The problem is to get that advantage to our dangerous wings when the ball has to go through a centre pair with poor distribution skills and hands. De Allende also plays too deep and this neutralizes the players on his outside.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Spot on Albert, had to laugh at Mr Crabs and Mr Crash, perfect description. I have just posted to John Comyn above here which also relates to your post. Cheers.

        • Herman Schroder?

          Spot on Albert, had to laugh at Mr Crabs and Mr Crash. I have just posted to John Comyn above here which also relates to your post. Cheers.

        • John Comyn

          I’m no Jantjies fan but I think his inclusion is a good thing for this game. Hopefully he will take confidence from Rassie not throwing him to the wolves after the England disaster. Pollard needs a wake up call. Whatever Rassie does he must not play him against the AB’s. They love him! Your comment on the center pairing is unfair. Kriel has been excellent all season and IMHO De Allende is the best 12 in SA. He’s a bit like Jantjies in that he is either loved or hated. He can expect lots of hospital passes coming his way but I think he is going to have a blinder.

          • John Comyn

            Barry – we will have to agree to disagree. I can’t see what all the noise around AM is about. He was abysmal in his last game, ditto Esterhuizen. The new pair can’t get any worse. Clearly numerous coaches are not on the same page as you are when it comes to DD.

          • Herman Schroder?

            John they are not hospital passes, DA does not know how to position himself to receive it. Too complicated for him, lol. Cheers.

          • Barry Smith

            Not sure where you get your views or stats on the centre pairing!
            Reality is that Damian has done nothing in the past three years that suggest he should be in the Springbok fold let alone in the starting line up. What recent performance justifies his selection?
            Jesse certainly looks the part physically and is good on attack, but his defence and strategic nous is poor. His last outing against England, where he shepherded England 10 in their in goal area was simply embarrassing. Prey what has he done to surpass Am. Oh, and those without a brain that leap to the reported Am defence issues, might want to consider that two missed tackles is not justification for that label.
            I wish both of them great success on Saturday, but let’s not pretend, it is our B team and it is high risk!

  • Barry Smith

    There are moves within SA to have the Ownership of Unions stretched to 51%, making them commercially controlled entities.
    It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Owners could well be UK based and in a position to decide which leagues they play in! This may not be a bad thing at all, because our current semi- professional approach to things will simply not be tolerated in entities that are run as professional.businesses!
    I suggest that our Unions are as much at risk as our players are!

    • SweetAz

      I like this,–If one or two of our Unions can accomplish this and get themselves into this New Premiership it would be great for supporters. Personally, if the Stormers and the Lions were premiership teams with a global audience I would quite happily become a Franchise supporter first and foremost, and write SARU off and let them and the ANC go sit in a corner singing Kumbaya to each other.
      Most Americans don’t give a toss about international gridiron, baseball, football or basketball…… Their Franchises are what counts.

  • Augusto

    There is too much speculation in this article

  • Mike Stoop

    If this takeover comes off, things are going to get very interesting. In SA the government and SARU will probably look for some way to get in the way, but eventually the mighty (or maybe after Brexit not so mighty) Pound will prevail.

    The more interesting outcome will be the effect this will have on other European competitions like the Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and even the Six Nations. With the Premier League attempting to be the top competition in the world, will there be room for these competitions? One thing is certain, the ERFU will lose control of their players. Will this possibly create an opportunity for SARU to look North instead of East for its salvation. England currently has six slots in the European Champions Cup. Could they become available to a new player?

    A hard Brexit will also affect these competitions. The free flow of players between Europe and the UK may be affected. Will that make more opportunities available for southern hemisphere players in both France and the UK, or will it reduce the opportunities? The EU will probably make the Brits jump through hoops to get work permits. After some tit for tat, who knows what the landscape will look like.


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