It amazes me how World Rugby folds its arms and does nothing to protect the integrity of the game as English clubs brazenly seek to sabotage the international careers of South African players.
In August, for example, it was reported on rugbypass.com that Willie le Roux’s club Wasps revealed that he would play three matches for the Springboks in the Rugby Championship and one on their end-of-season tour in November.
Half of that prophecy has come to naught with Willie being ever-present during the Rugby Championship and hopefully the rest of the so-called “deal” between South African and Wasps also doesn’t come to pass.
Now we have the case of Faf de Klerk, who according to a report in The Guardian was allowed by Sale to play for the Boks in the Rugby Championship in return for him not being called up by the Boks in November.
Such agreements, of course, are a violation of World Rugby’s regulation 9.3.
I guess the problem is that we have all come to accept that we live in a world where money talks louder than regulations. Players don’t want to offend their clubs, who have the power to erect barriers to prevent them from playing international rugby.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to read a report linking Le Roux with a move to the Bulls. Reading between the lines the writing may be on the wall for his career at Wasps. He was a great signing for the club while he was in the international wilderness, but is obviously a less attractive proposition now that he’ll be missing games due to international duty.
In addition, there has been a report of a possible change of the South African contracting model from 2020 onwards. It could mean the end of joint contracts between the South African Rugby Union (Saru) and provinces with players. Instead, match fees of between R250,000 and R400,000 are mooted, which means that players with overseas clubs will receive compensation if their employers briefly suspend their salaries.
All of that, of course, is unconfirmed, but reading between the lines there is an interesting throw of the dice here by South African rugby.
It could be something like this: Let’s make peace with the fact that we can’t compete with the power of the Pound, Euro and Yen. Instead, let’s embrace the situation and allow the clubs to do the development of our players for us.
We pick the fruit and once we’ve done so there may well be an increasing reluctance by potential employers in the Northern Hemisphere to raid the domestic game in South Africa.
In the case of Le Roux and De Klerk, their moves to England have been good for them on a personal level and for South Africa on an international level. That doesn’t mean that there should be any gratitude shown towards the clubs because they didn’t have anything except their own interests at heart when they contracted these players.
In that context I believe it’s important that South African rugby stare Sale and Wasps down with regards to picking Le Roux and De Klerk for the matches that fall inside World Rugby’s test window in November.
De Klerk was one of the Boks’ best players this year but is still in the process of developing into a polished and consistent international scrumhalf. If he misses matches between now and next year’s World Cup in Japan, his development will be stunted and South Africa’s chances of winning the tournament compromised.
As is the case with Le Roux’s availability for “one match only” it shouldn’t be allowed if he could be adding value to the Boks.
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world and perhaps coach Rassie Erasmus may see merit in striking deals to lay the seeds for favourable circumstances further down the line.
But if there’s nothing we can do to prevent clubs from signing our players, we may as well make them think twice about the consequences.
Rumour has it Wasps are losing their enthusiasm for holding onto Le Roux, so the link to the Bulls doesn’t surprise me. So why not send Sale down a similar track with De Klerk? The club may win the battle, but not without thinking twice about whether it’s worth shopping on the cheap in South Africa.
Even if World Rugby is a toothless tiger there are still ways for South African rugby to show some teeth – with or without empty wallets.