Stare down Euro clubs

Stephen Nell

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 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.

- Stephen Nell

Let's chat

  • Barry

    All well and good Stephen, but you are not also considering things from a players perspective. They may well want to be overseas earning Euros and if they’re good enough, why not! So to try and manipulate circumstances to force them back, would give me some moral discomfort! I suspect that is why Erasmus has taken the stance he has, in trying to meet parties somewhere in the middle
    Surely the crux of the issue is the fact that World Rugby have been unable to implement a Global Season and that is why we are having to face these disputes. The sooner this is done, the better, but it is not simple with different regional climatic conditions to contend with!

    • Dean

      SA rugby should perhaps implement a central contracting system of sorts to look after their best talent. Would it not be wiser to financially benefit from loaning players out to these International clubs? Much like soccer all over the World. SA rugby players are in high demand overseas. Could they not take advantage of that? The overseas clubs snap these players up for nothing to begin with. We need to create a business model which serves SA rugby the best. If you had your most talented players loaned out overseas for a couple of seasons it would be a win-win situation all round. Then they come back better players but still return to be part of the setup. I think Rassie is handling the current situation the best way possible.

      • Chris Mouton

        That’s not a bad idea, Dean. Problem is, it doesn’t seem like SARU is doing anything useful. With talks of them abandoning the contracts it will just drive more and more players overseas.

    • Chris Mouton

      Spot on, Barry. By forcing the clubs to release the players too much will force these clubs to put in clauses of their own. Or it might just cause dissent between the players and the clubs, which might cause the players to make themselves unavailable for national duty. As the saying goes, don’t bite the hand that feeds…

  • Blokkies Joubert

    Why are we talking about national duty as if it was military service?

    The players have a right to accept or refuse an offer from the Boks.
    Not being reliable to your employer is not just something people have to do, it is what they want to do. Willie and Faf have teams as well up there, friends and a life. Consider for a second that they to want to contribute to their careers and teams.

    Realistically, SA cannot compete on salaries or contracts. A dual income European, middle management office job has a bigger household income than an average springbok, better hours, no weekends and a longer career. Rugby players in Europe get paid what a world-class athlete should deserve in his 10-year career.

    So if you have to choose, and you are a smart, responsible, forward-thinking adult individual, When the Boks call you and you have to let the club and team mates down, you’d be a fool to say yes and risk it all. Unless your club has a good relation with SARugby, then it makes sense.

  • Herman Schroder?

    All this ‘he will play he won’t play’ tripe is not sustainable. The two most successful teams in world rugby do not play ‘overseas’ players. Sure we have the money imbalance loaded against us but having these overseas ‘stars’ gracing us with their presence at the wont of their employees for every test is a ‘team culture’ killer in the long run. The ongoing Mostert controversy highlights the negative aspects of this policy.

    It’s fair to say that without Faf and Willie the Boks would probably have lost the two England tests at least, leaving Rassie with a very poor 30% win ratio. Alarms bells would have been ringing all over the world despite the Wellington heroics. Of course if those two tests were lost we would probably have seen a totally different mindset and Bok team for the RC and especially Wellington where in any case we should have lost if one is objective enough. But isn’t this just papering over the cracks ?

    So yes in this case, bearing in mind where the Boks were before Rassie took over, it did prove beneficial but it still remains a problem. The way things are going now it seems that people think that practically the entire team should come from our overseas contingent. Most of them are ‘white’ which should create some selection nightmares for Rassie when he needs to play the politically motivated numbers game come the WC. The uncertainty of availability further adds to Rassies woes. So quite frankly it’s a mess.

    Rassie, despite what the pundits like Jake White are saying, is trying to satisfy too many people in his quest for the Holy Grail. With only seven tests remaining before lift off are we any clearer on how the WC squad will pan out bearing in mind all the negative factors in play ? I don’t think so.

    Imagine if Rassie had his time over would we not have been better served with a clear ‘no overseas player’ policy so he could have built a team around the local lads who could have been developed into a tight home brewed unit with a team culture uncluttered by colour and availability issues. Would we have been any worse off than the 30 to 50% win ratio we now have ? Would we have seen the Bok implosion at Loftus after ten tests together that was so blatantly a reminder of just how vulnerable we still are ? I think not.

    I predicted the fall of HM and AC over the past five years and Rassie still has not convinced me that his current policies are sustainable. In my opinion he has already missed a golden opportunity to build from within and he will be judged accordingly when he continues his juggling act over the next seven tests and into the WC. Is finding 23 competitive driven players from within our borders for our first pool game a year from now that impossible ? Only time will tell. Cheers.

  • Theunis

    Klip in die bos. Die NH speel goeie rugby, voor en agter. Rassie het baie vooruitgang gemaak, maar wat my pla is die impak spelers vanaf die bank. Dit wil voorkom dat ons nie ‘n spesifieke strategie rondom dit het nie. Ek kan aan ten minste drie goeie redes dink wanneer spelers vervang behoort te word. Wanneer daar ‘n besering is, wanneer ‘n speler ooglopend ‘n afdag het, wanneer ‘n speler moeg is, maar al die spelers moet tagtig minute kan speel. Anders versteur jy die ritme van die span. Die Springbokspan is nie ‘n liefdadigheids organisasie nie en spelers behoort hulle beurt af te wag.
    Die ander ding is dat die afrigtingspan en of die kaptein nie kan agterkom wanneer hulle span onder druk is nie. Dis baie maklik. Hou die losskakel dop. Wanneer hy die bal direk uitskop vanaf die middelkolletjie dan voel hy die druk erg, want die adrinalien loop hoog en hy weet nie hoe hard hy skop nie. En hierdie druk werk dan terug deur die hele span. Goeie afrigting kan hulle voorberei om die druk te verwerk.

  • nezo


    You come up with a business MODEL to bring all our players back playing in our country. allow them three years only in their careers to play overseas. (only to help them develop new skills)

    who knows you might think of a solution. we want our players back home. we also need to pay them well. surely there is a solution. LETS COME UP WITH IT. WE THE SUPPORTERS I MEAN not SARU.
    I would like to think South Africans like you are wise. let’s do this. then will present it to the nation and the powers that be.

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