Toxic rugby drives Bok exodus

Brenden Nel

If you’re a rugby fan, you may have to get used to the fact that, from 2020, the bulk of the Springbok team will be based abroad. It isn’t a scare tactic; it’s reality.

This may well be the last Super Rugby series where Springboks litter the stage and aren’t off serving foreign paymasters. SA Rugby knows it, and the provinces know it. But while it’s easy to blame the exchange rate, often our own administrators make it so easy for players to choose a foreign option rather than a local one, despite the fact that our country has so much to offer.

Tut-tut, I hear you say, yes our country has more than its fair share of problems. But, as we all know, the grass is not always greener on the other side, no matter the amount of cash thrown at the problem. Which brings me to a conversation I had with former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss a few months back, on why he had never chosen the path of overseas clubs, and had always made his way in South Africa.

“You can have a wonderful life here in South Africa,” he told me, “the salaries don’t have to be on par with overseas clubs, but if there is a bit of leeway, and good offers are made, many players would prefer to stay closer to their families, and build a future for themselves here.”

We’re often told a rugby player’s lifespan is a short one and they need to make as much money now for their future. This is the reason many of them go overseas, but we sometimes overlook the fact that the local franchises make it easy for them to leave.

Sure, there are those who decide purely on financial terms, and the local franchises can’t match the offers they are made, and yes, some leave for the life experience. But there are times when teams could make more of an effort to keep players.

Take the situation currently at Western Province, where the elected officials from the amateur arm are trying their utmost to enforce their will on the professional side of Western Province rugby. This is happening behind the scenes and has spilled over into the public domain.

And for all the cries of fake news there is a situation there. I’m not going to expand on the merits of the players’ complaints over the Paul Treu saga, suffice to say that there is obviously a problem, and the manner in which management has approached it has made it worse rather than making it better.

This leaves WP in a precarious situation. Just 12 of their players have signed for next year and while we take it for granted that some Springboks will leave for greener pastures after the World Cup, what about those fringe players?

Eben Etzebeth has already signed with Toulon, while Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit are high on the shopping lists and have already been made offers by clubs.

And then there’s the likes of Dillyn Leyds, Cobus Wiese, Sergeal Petersen, Wilco Louw, Damian de Allende and others. If they are unhappy at the way management has treated the situation, and see no real desire from the administrators to create a good working environment, would they choose to stay?

The Bulls of 2005-2010 proved that, by creating the right working environment, they could stave off the foreign offers for a while. After the 2007 World Cup victory the majority of Bulls Springboks had offers from overseas, but chose to stay and face the British and Irish Lions. They were happy, and truth be told, didn’t want the family vibe they had in their team to end.

It is also the reason the Lions have been so successful over the past few years. The culture of playing for each other, often borne out of circumstance, has transformed them into a tight group that stick together. Despite big-money offers, Elton Jantjies, Warren Whiteley, Malcolm Marx, Ross Cronje and Andries Fourie, among others all decided to stay in Johannesburg rather than head overseas.

Administrators will learn the hard way, that no matter what the offers on the table, a player wants to belong, wants to feel part of something and wants to be happy.

They may not be able to win every battle in keeping players in SA when the big money comes knocking but, believe me, if the environment is toxic and players aren’t happy, they’re making it easier for the foreign money men. My fear is that we may see a trickle become a flood at the end of the season.

- Brenden Nel

Let's chat

  • boyo

    I do think winning can also help keep players and a good bok side and a realistic chance of winning super rugby would help that.

    Ideally also the bok coach could consider players from all provinces for the boks.

    • Eugene

      The government spends millions on soccer Rugby on the other hand is still seen as a white man sport and receives the minimum from government. They must do their part financially to help keep players in SA

      • Bokfan

        Do you have the numbers Eugen? How much does the govt spend on soccer? And how much on rugby? Would be interesting to know

      • boyo

        They must do more to broadcast the games to the majority of south Africans as a start.

    • John Comyn

      Okay Boyo lets get down to the nitty gritty of all your discontent. Who are the Sharks players you believe have been ostracized by rugby mafia? Perhaps Barry can throw in a few names as well.

      • Barry

        John, perhaps start with the Sharks player that got a standing ovation from a partisan WP crowd at the Currie Cup final. At least they had the sporting grace to acknowledge a standout performance, unlike some WP supporters that just can’t see anything other than blue and white hoops. The players name by the bye was Akker VDM, but you probably haven’t heard of him – he diesnt play in Blue and white!

        • John Comyn

          Akker is a victim of of the quota system. No conspiracy theory. I feel for the guy but lets not forgety who gave him his break into international rugby!

          • Wanga

            Get out of here. What quota system are you talking about? Akker did not make the squad to accommodate Brits. Marx, Bongi and Akker should have been the three hookers last year selected for all the tours, but we know what people like you always blame black players for all that is bad in SA rugby.

          • John Comyn

            “Ideally also the bok coach could consider players from all provinces for the boks”

          • Barry

            Uhm, so now your agreeing with Boyo! The mind boggles, so what was the earlier frothy about?

    • Koos

      Stormer tinted glasses?

  • Baylion

    Andries Fourie? Coetzee maybe?

    • Johan

      Andries Fourie is a bit over-rated… I never see him on the pitch :D

  • Barry

    The Toxins you refer to though are surely unique to WP and not generic to SA rugby as a whole. The Sharks and Lions have always had a family home from home approach and whilst they are not without their problems, the vibe is pretty solid. The Bulls have had a few troubled years, but they are also looking happier than they have been for some time. So it seems more a Cape issue to solve!

    Whilst a Provincial happy environment is unquestionably key, I think there are bigger issues that are encouraging our chaps overseas:

    National selection is probably the biggest driver- it’s every kids dream to play for the Springboks and whilst the playing field is level and performance is generally rewarded, those close to selection are happy to hang around. BUT the playing field is not level is it. We have a racial selection policy and form players have been blatantly overlooked. The Du Preez brother x 3 and Bosch for example all organized year end stints overseas – it is their first exit step- overlook them again and they will be gone! There is a bucket load in a similar position in the Lions camp as well!

    The second issue is that of crime, violence and a general deterioration of standards. Paul Willemse recently championed this point in his interview about living and playing for France! If you are starting a young family, is SA the right place to do it?

    The huge money just adds the swing vote to matters, so if you’ve just been overlooked again for National selection and you’re on your second house breaking and someone offers you 6 times your annual gross……

    • Albert

      “The huge money just adds the swing vote to matters, so if you’ve just been overlooked again for National selection and you’re on your second house breaking and someone offers you 6 times your annual gross……” a certain Rohan Janse Van Rensburg leaps to mind. Someone who was overlooked for the Boks, had a close shave and thus opted for the overseas option.

      Agree completely with your comment.

      There are so many more issues in South Africa, issues that aren’t even reported on the news. Sure we have Brexit and some knife crime in England and of course the cold winters. But I would rather live in a country where you can walk around at night, have electricity without fail, running water, 24/7 broadband all over and doesn’t cost half my salary. The merits of living in South Africa is the beautiful country and amazing outdoor life. But is it worth it? For some who have the ability to leave, the grass is greener. And some just can’t cut it.

    • John Comyn

      There you go Barry! You have finally come out and openly stated the names of the players that have been causing all the angst. If it’s any consolation to your tormented soul I’m sure they are all in Rassie’s plans going forward. (unless Rupert vetto’s it) Jean-Luc was injured last year during much of the international season and the other two brothers are hardly shoo ins ditto Bosch. All of these players are young and their time will come. The unlucky one is Akker who is a victim of quotas. Hell the Sharks got Thomas the tank in the set-up and he is living proof that Rassie has no ax to grind with the Sharks.

      • Barry

        Try and stay on topic John. We’re talking about circumstances that cause our players to go over seas!

        Try and think of something that you could add that might positively contribute to the blog!

        There’s a good boy!

        • John Comyn

          The hypocrisy! Boyo and yourself cannot make a comment on any subject without eluding to how the Sharks have been hard done by at the expense of WP. I didn’t bring up the Du Preez brothers and Bosch. I am merely responding to your comment.

    • SweetAz

      The problem in WP is that there are a shitload of coloured amateur clubs each with a vote. So they get to elect their gabba’s like Wakefield and Marais. The other provinces don’t have that problem, the amateur clubs are much more homogenous so you don’t have the same degree of factionalism.

      • Dean Bright

        The other provinces don’t have that problem? Then how did Nollis Marais get to coach the Bulls with no experience, same situation as Fleck. How did Chean Roux become a Springbok defense coach with no Super Rugby or international experience? Then he gets demoted and becomes an unsuccessful Junior Bok coach. The mediocrity that is rewarded in SA rugby never ceases to amaze. They let a brilliant coaches like Owen Mounemaine and Dawie Theron leave. It happens on all sides, you can’t say it’s just one race losing out.

        • SweetAz

          Let me rephrase,-they don’t have the problem to the same extent. Happy now?

      • John Comyn

        About 100 clubs more or less of which 16 play in the Super A League. There are clubs across the entire WC in every little village/town who get a vote. Ludicrous!

      • Joe

        Ten out of ten to you for having the guts to call it the way you have. It’s not because they’re Coloured, it’s because they’re clueless, corrupt amateurs. Wakefield and Marais have less competence than is needed to run a spaza shop, far less the WP Rugby Union.

  • Dejavu

    The Lions had Kevin de Klerk as President steadying the ship. It’s time for a former player who commands respect to do likewise at the Stormers – Morné du Plessis or someone of similar stature. A happy rugby union produces a winning team. ?

    • SweetAz

      He’s not brown enough

  • SweetAz

    It’s not toxic rugby,-its toxic leadership elected by ignorant and stupid people causing the problem.

  • Faghrie

    I can’t wait to see Dillon Leydts and SP Marais take overseas offers.

  • R. PACE

    Some very good points………..A huge percentage of the guys that opted to rather play professional rugby than follow a career, study etc have nothing to fall back on… They need to make the most money in the shortest possible time, only because of the uncertainty of a long and injury free career. The administrative and management chaos in some of the provinces are shocking to say the least.

    Do away with clubs having the controlling say in who gets elected… SArugby needs to go full-on professional and allow controlling private shareholding… this will change the face of rugby in SA for the good.

    I am glad that players sign with overseas clubs, it shows that they are managing their careers and are on top of the risks that this sport brings.

    SArugby has taken a bullet long ago allready… It has just taken long to bleed out…… The funeral is not to far off.

    The day we do totally away with quotas, pick the best player in the position, pick only the in form players… Allow controlling private ownership, manage the sponsorships properly etc… Etc is the day the stadiums will fill up again.

    I have loved this game my whole life and have never been concerned about the skincolour that wears the jersey… The best inform player deservesto wear the jersey.. Thats what the rugby supporter enjoys, support and are willing to back with money.

    A paradigm shift is needed to save this troubled sport.

  • Augusto

    Here in Argentina, Jaguares are facing a big problem in this matter. A lot of Jaguares players are heading overseas after the World Cup, and this fact is related to two big problems for Argentinian rugby : only Super Rugby players or local players can play for Los Pumas, so the quality of the national team is at risk. And in the other hand, we don’t have the structure to develop Super Rugby level players at a sufficient rate to fill the vacant slots, at least in quality terms. We don’t have the only professional team in the country is Jaguares, because we only have club rugby. So, is a going to be a problem here. The players can’t be blame for looking for their future, but playing for the Pumas jersey isn’t what it used to be.

    • Barry

      Interesting August. We introduced a similar thing where foreign based players with less than 30 caps could not play for the Springboks but it really didn’t stop players from moving. It seems the same in Argentina.

      On top of this we have social issues- crime violence etc plus racial selections. Not pretty!

  • Dean Bright

    Time for SA rugby to grow a pair and take full control. Appoint their own presidents, ceo’s, coaches and contract only enough players for 5 professional franchises. The rest can stay amateur and be picked from yearly, like a draw of some sort. NFL type thing. There’s no way the Leopards president should have equal vote to a Super Rugby franchise president. It boggles the mind. Less is more.

  • Dean Bright

    When Louis Luyt was president of SA rugby, our rugby competed at the top for many years. He was a shrewd businessman and not necessarily liked but he got the job done. It’s not a popularity vote, do what is necessary to make South African rugby successful again.

    • Barry

      I agree fully Dean, Luyt was as tough customer who commanded respect and got things done, whilst being totally dislike able. It was very clear who ran SA rugby.

      If you asked people at the moment who runs SA Rugby, most would come up with a blank!

  • albert Hoffmann

    “If you’re a rugby fan, you may have to get used to the fact that, from 2020, the bulk of the Springbok team will be based abroad. It isn’t a scare tactic; it’s reality.” Yes! no more over rated stormers bringing down the local standard!

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