SA exodus is a positive

Devin Hermanus

When it comes to South Africa’s player exodus, the horse (or is it now the lion?) has bolted. And it has gathered pace after SA Rugby ditched the 30-cap overseas selection rule.

Local fans may consider starting a #StopSaffersLeaving movement, or marching to Saru’s Plattekloof headquarters, but professional rugby players are, like footballers, chasing a pay check from whichever UK, French or Japanese club offers them the most zeroes.

And it’s time we accept this trend as a positive. South Africans playing and coaching in Europe, where they gather valuable insights on foreign opponents while honing their craft, can benefit the Boks.

Up north, forwards are the rockstars as they truck up the ball with force in heavy weather, an ideal environment for “flair” SA loosies who need to cultivate a hard edge. Saffer pivots and playmakers, like Wasps-based magician Willie le Roux, come to learn that a crafty boot, not a sniping run or silky pass, can often do the most damage, driving play further with each possession to keep the opposition on the back foot.

Pocket dynamos Cheslin Kolbe and Gio Aplon have caused havoc in France, but skillful big men among the backs – like new Bok bruiser, Andre Esterhuizen – are favoured as they’re just as capable of punching holes in defences with ball-in-hand as the forwards.

The likes of English champions Saracens and Pro 14 winners Leinster are professionally run, and spare no expense bringing in the best tactical experts and strength-and-conditioning gurus to produce smarter, stronger players.

Ja nee, it seems a week doesn’t go by without Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann signing one of his former Lions charges, and it’s got to the point where the Premiership club has even changed the team badge to mirror the Lions’ emblem. A coincidence, surely?

So far, Ackermann has convinced the Springbok trio of prop Ruan Dreyer, flank Jaco Kriel and lock Franco Mostert, as well as Sharks hooker Franco Marais, to join him and son Ruan in England for the 2018/19 season. Western Province academy flyhalf Dom Coetzer has also joined Gloucester’s youth set-up.

Former Lions president Louis Luyt must be turning in his grave as his beloved union is pillaged of its prized predators. What’s stopping Ackermann from going after Bok outcasts Ruan Combrinck and Rohan Janse van Rensburg next?

Another former Lions livewire and the Sale Sharks Player of 2017/18, Faf de Klerk  will make his first Test appearance since 2016 when he lines up against England at Ellis Park on Saturday.

According to De Klerk, he’s tweaked his tactical kicking in the “Test rugby” conditions of the northern hemisphere, and is now a more complete scrumhalf – one better suited to implementing Bok coach Rassie Erasmus’ preferred kick-chase blueprint than debutant Ivan van Zyl in SA’s 22-20 defeat against Wales in the US.

Ackermann, considered by many as a Bok-coach-in-waiting, has surrounded himself with familiar faces at Gloucester, so as best to establish a solid base to work from and succeed abroad. Erasmus similarly recruited his former Stormers defence expert Jacques Nienaber, and WP centre Jaco Taute and lock Jean Kleyn, during his successful stint at Munster.

At Kingsholm Stadium, Ackermann will oversee the 18-capped Mostert’s progression as a lock/blindside flank, while encouraging Kriel as the former Lions skipper recovers from shoulder surgery. Aged 27, Dreyer is still honing his craft as a front-row grunter and the tighthead has plenty to offer SA rugby if he rediscovers his best form under Ackermann at Gloucester.

Ruan Ackermann, the uncapped No 8 who is keen to play for England and qualifies on residency in August 2020, has impressed for the Cherry and Whites. But one call from Rassie offering the 22-year-old a Bok jersey and who knows…

The pain of the player drain is felt by SA’s Super Rugby teams in teams light on experience. However, there are key learnings to be gained from having a pride of hungry lions on the hunt in Gloucestershire, taking their cues from a trusted leader.

Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, wears sunglasses on his forehead, buys chocolate milkshake in bulk, and is one more fuel hike away from hitchhiking. Follow him on Twitter: @DevinMyles11

- Devin Hermanus

Let's chat

  • Andrew Mortimer

    As much as it hurts to see a winning Lions team dismantled I have to agree with Devin. Our economy cant support the pay checks that our top players deserve. Lets focus on South Africa becoming the Brazil of Rugby. Brazillian football players are highly prized assets in leagues all around the world.
    Lets focus on producing players capable of playing in leagues across the world. To make them truly valuable we need the Boks to win.
    So lets focus the resources that we do have on: educating and producing top class coaches, on systems that keep track of all the Saffas playing and coaching around the world and on a Bok setup that is the most professional international team in world rugby. A setup that every player aspires to be a part of no matter where they are based in the world.
    Finally lets ditch Super Rugby and stop funding NZ and Aussie rugby.

    • John Comyn

      I’m not sure but I think there is a vast difference interms of preparing a soccer team and a rugby team for an international. I hear rugby coaches bemoaning how difficult it is to retain a team for any length of time. There are far more pieces to the puzzle in rugby as opposed to soccer. If we look at the AB’s by and large they play as a unit for years and draft players in slowly. The only way they can do this, according to them, is if the national coaches have a say in how the franchises play the game. It’s impossible to do this if players are dotted all over the planet.

      • Herman Schroder?

        I totally agree. The best team on the planet due to their policy of only blooding local talent and bringing them in slowly to mature under mentorship in test rugby. Compare it to Rassie’s Springbok cap bonanza where caps were handed out like Smarties at Halloween. Soon there’ll be more Springboks than uncapped players in every Franchise and most of them still can’t consistently win matches in SR, go figure. Cheers.

    • gary

      Excellent perspective.

  • Shaville Fledermaus

    In what world are you living. The impression you try to create points to England dominating world rugby, but it doesn’t. Goodness, some of the SA players you mentioned was found wanting to your initial selection criteria, others are “domkrag” bullies with limited imagination. And on top you still see Ackerman as a feature coach even though he is taking Gloucester two steps back.

    • Mike Stoop

      How did Ackerman take Gloucester two steps back? They improved from 10th to 7th on the table an had 11 wins against 7 the previous year. Maybe he did not make the playoffs, but the club did improve. Do some research before you comment mate. Your comment about domkrag bullies and Ackerman’s performance is just silly.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Spot on Mike. Let’s see next season when he has his Lions team playing overseas with all those players not considered good enough by Rassie. Cheers.

  • Maxwell

    This can and will never be positive. The Boks are ranked 7th. What this means is we playing with the 7th best players against the best players. Do you expect to win? We need to stop the exodus and somebody need to start paying SARU to get their hands on the players and Saru needs to be the negotiator. International rugby is best against the best. We lost because the 7string Boks played against a 2string Wales. Your positive surely is in the interest of certain the players and coaches rather than for the Springbokteam.

  • Nick.

    This is good for nobody.

    Won’t take long before the locals tire of seeing their team taken over by SAFA’s. This is a BIG contingency Akkerman is recruiting. The supporters and most of the players absolutely despised Jake White at Montpellier in France and could not wait to see the back of him for the same reason, as well as his prefered game plan.

    Yes, money is everything it seems, but that does not make any of this good.

    I would obviously much rather see the lot of them playing for the Lions.

  • Nick.

    Do I blame the players for thinking about their pensions? No.

    • Maxwell

      These players needs to stop using SARU to get into the Euros and pounds. They need to make way for those who wants to becomes Springboks without royal compensations. They can start the exodus to Europe play at grassroots
      levels.

      • Mike Stoop

        Actually they do. An under 19 Lions lock (Grade 11 I think) just signed for Racing in France. He withdrew from the Lions u/19 team as a result. They are leaving at an ever younger age. Good players don’t really need SARU. In the end we will have to make do with the leftovers.

        By the way. How are they “using” SARU? It is not as though SARU affiliated unions pay their non-international players spectacular salaries. These young men are just rugby players, exercising their right to participate in an activity they happen to be good at.

        • Maxwell

          Are you saying there is another structure parallel to SARU. Thank you for clearing it up.

          • Mike Stoop

            WTF? Schools rugby, strictly speaking, is not controlled by SARU, but by USASA. And the existence of parallel structures is not the issue. It is your assertion that players “use” SARU. Who is SARU? A super body that controls rugby? SARU exists because there are humans, with rights, who play rugby. It is supposed to look after the interests of those players and the sport they practice. Your attitude is similar to people who believe that people exist to serve governments and not the other way round. But then of course, you are not a player. You are a commentator and spectator, who believes the fact that he enjoys watching a sport, gives him more rights than those who actually play the sport. Sporting bodies should administer sport. They should not control it. SA Rugby is moving in the same direction as SA Soccer. The rights and interests of those who “control” the sport have more important than the rights and interests of those that play the sport. Yes, some players move on, often after contributing immensely to the game they play and to the pleasure of those who watch it. We should be grateful that they graced the sport with their presence and their talent. We would all be poorer if they didn’t.

  • Herman Schroder?

    And the elephant in the room, why are those players apart from Mostert really leaving for greener pastures ? I’ll give you a clue, Rassie’s 43 man squad and it’s devotion to the SARU / ANC imposed qouta system which he signed up for. I don’t blame the guys for leaving at all despite my disappointment at the Lions team being watered down. We might as well have 4 mediocre teams in SR next year, what’s the difference.

    • Mike Stoop

      List the players who you think should have been there and then HONESTLY evaluate them against the ones that were selected. Try to leave your Lions bias behind you for just that SHORT time.Maybe you will feel better afterwards.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Mike the problem here is you assume it’s bias and not just the plain truth backed up by just about every SS stat over the past three years. If you are honest with yourself what have the other three Franchises brought to the table except to disgrace SA rugby in that time. It’s very difficult to not be biased when the others give you nothing to compliment them about.

        For example thirteen Sharks in the Bok squad and if form was the criteria very few of them should have made the cut The Sharks last few games, except for the Chiefs game where the NZ team fielded their second string, ) were pretty abysmal. For example Nkosi who plays today was very poor against the Jaguares who are the closest to a test team in SR. The Sharks had two decent games in 13 matches the Hurricanes ( still lost ) and the Highlanders, yet because of that 13 players make the squad ??. Five wins in 13 games means most of those guys have not got BMT and here we’re talking second tier SR.

        The Stormers have 8 in the match day squad today yet they have been even worse than the Sharks. The Bulls also with 8 are still battling despite their supposed reincarnation with Mitchell. These three teams are currently out of the top eight in a competition that only has 15 teams in it, lol, how pathetic is that.

        The Lions who are not up to scratch this season still lick any Franchise in SA and have been doing it for three years now yet get overlooked en bloc for players in the other Franchises who are mostly just doing their job with the odd flashes here and there and are then suddenly elevated to superstar status, go figure.

        Then Rassie brings in the golden oldies to try and boost his squad but most of them dont seem really interested. I exclude Faf because he is basically a Lion and is to all intents and purposes still a newbie. You can’t tell me that Cronje, Andries Coetzee, Combrink, R J v Rensburg, Vorster, Dreyer ( one scrum penalty this year to Wilco’s four ) Mapoe could have not done better than the clowns who played against Wales ?? They have played two SR finals and before this season achieved parity with the NZ teams they played against including winning all three playoff matches against them.

        Not one of the aforementioned Franchises have even come close to achieving anything like that yet three quarters of the 43 man squad come from those woeful Franchises who are 9th, 10th and 11th on a 15 team SR log. Small wonder I stand up for them because it proves to me they are made of the right stuff and won’t buckle when the going gets tough. If Rassie was looking for experience well there he had it on a plate and just like Alistair Coetzee and even Meyer before him they chose not to do so.

        Now your obvious response will be they have been off form this year. Well let me counter that by asking you who has been on form consistently this year in the other Franchises. The problem here is that players like D’Allende are so woeful that when they eventually get something right they are lauded and given virtues they simply do not possess and then are rewarded with the green and gold to boot. It’s now very clear why we are ranked 7th in the world, our coaches just don’t see a good thing when they have it on their doorstep to harness.

        And a final point here. The Lions in my opinion have taken the brunt of Rassie’s 50% quota requirements if truth be told. They were always considered too ‘white’ in some circles so Is this maybe payback time for those players ? Small wonder they are heading for greener pastures and I wish all of them well when they reunite with SA’s best coach by a country mile. Cheers.

        • Mike Stoop

          Too long Herman. Just one point. The Springbok team consists of 23 individuals who are selected for the day of the match. A franchise team can’t be selected to represent the country. Which INDIVIDUALS in your Lions team deserve to be in the Springbok team? List them (please exclude players who are not available due to injury). Please take the performance of the players who played on Saturday into account when you do the comparisons. Take the past performances of your players as Springboks (not as Lions) into account as well.

          • Herman Schroder?

            Please don’t tell me how long my posts should be, it shows a touch of arrogance.

            Firstly using the Lions Springbok form as a measure is not justified. NO Springbok played to his potential under Coetzee which is a fact and as I said before throwing in a hodge podge of domkraggers with the Lions players who play a totally different game plan is a recipe for disaster which was proven by the abysmal results.

            Secondly trying to use Saturdays game as a measure is a bit disingenuous. If one takes Faf’s and Willie’s spectacular influence on the outcome out of the match out of the equation we would all be crying in our porridge this morning. Some of the players were so poor or at best average and just doing their job it’s not difficult to find a few alternatives.

            Faf aside Cronje would have been a better bet than Van Zyl who in his brief cameo and in Wales was poor. Vorster / Ruan J vRensburgh for the still anemic Damien ‘Dullende’. Dreyer for Wilco who scored a 4/10 on Rugbypass. Nkosi did impress me but against the RC teams Combrink is still the better option. With Willie and Faf in the team Jantjies will blossom and give him two decent centres then you will really see something. The point here is that selections are subjective but I still believe the Lions superior experience and overall skills would not have weakened the side that played.

            You see the problem is that Saturday’s result was totally distorted by the two ”stars”, one of whom was a Lion ( what’s new ) and the other a ‘come back kid’ who always had it until Meyer and Coetzee got hold of him. The tackling of players 10 to 14 was abysmal in some cases and pretty poor by others. If they tackle like that then heaven help us in the RC.

            one player who did step up to the plate surprisingly for me was Stampkar Vermeulen but let’s see if he can repeat it over the next two weeks. He was looking pretty poor playing for Toulon if truth be told so form was obviously not a criteria for
            Rassie.

            So in closing let me just say that the Boks probably won in spite of themselves and who knows if more Lions played we would probably not nearly have lost the match, lol. In any case the only reason the two stars had to take over a sinking ship was because after 20 minutes they simply had to play expansively which, despite what Rassie is saying would not have been Plan A.

            I trust this was short enough for you. Cheers.

            PS : Ireland, No. 2 in the world, had thirteen Leinster players in their squad. So much for your take on one team not being over represented in a test match squad.

  • Maxwell

    Mike may I ? 15 Wille, Lambie. 14. Ruan, Leyds. 13 Serfontein ,Esterhuizen 12 De Allande ,Steyn. 11. Ismail, Nkosi. 10 Pollard , Jantjies. 9 Reinich, Cronje, Faf. 8 Duane, Luc . 7. Marcell Coetzee, Du Preez. 6 Kolisi Whitley, Kriel. 5t Mostert ,Pieter Stef. 4 Eben , Snyman 3 Louw, Dreyer 2 We all know who 1 Kirsthoff Beast

    • Mike Stoop

      Sorry, I don’t get the drift, apart from the fact that you have listed a multitude of players who are unavailable due to injury. Lambie, Serfontein, Steyn, Coetzee, Whiteley, Kriel, Etzebeth, etc. It shows that we have some depth, but I would like a list of available Lions players who should have played on Saturday.

      • Maxwell

        The list is a possible worldcup squad. Ruan and Janse should be part of the squad.

        • Mike Stoop

          As a squad it isn’t bad.

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