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.