This morning’s newspaper contains a new list of players heading overseas, mainly to Japan and France.
The French market appears to be near saturation point, with 51 of our players in the top 14 league there. For once, we beat the Kiwis, who only have 31 players in France. A further 10 players, including Aplon, McLeod and Johan Goosen will also be competing there later this year.
Ironically, there are plans in France to introduce their own quota system which aim to ensure that at least 12 players are of French birth. This stems from the poor performance by the French national side, as evidenced during the recent test series against the All Blacks.
This may not happen, though, as it could affect the income from TV. Typically, the clubs have found a loophole, called medical jokers, to circumvent such regulations.
Japan has become the new Eldorado, with a serious number of top Springboks and promising aspirants heading east.
Australia and New Zealand both have a national selection policy which excludes players from their national sides if they elect to ply their trade overseas, while SA does not. For this reason, most of the Aussies and Kiwis in Europe are players in the twilight of their careers, while we lose players like Johan Goosen who are about to make their mark.
How long will it take for those who put their bodies on the line, week after week, to also opt for the easier, better paid life overseas?
Take a player like Duane Vermeulen, for instance. He played in all fourteen Super 15 matches for the Stormers, as well as 4 tests, with only one breather when he was replaced in the last test against Scotland in the 67th minute. According to Die Burger this morning, he was excused from the training session yesterday to rest his aching body. Although picked for the Stormers on Saturday, he may be replaced if he does not make it in the final practice on Friday.
The same argument holds for many key players like Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis. Jake White must be commended for the side he picked for Saturday. What befuddles my mind is why the Sharks see the sense in resting their valiant warriors despite their second spot on the log while the Stormers, who are out of the race, are prepared to drain the last dregs out of a player like Vermeulen who is a vital cog in the Springbok machine.
What makes it even more ludicrous is that the current Springbok squad has its best chance in years of winning the Rugby Championship, but a lot will depend on whether the players are in peak form.
At the time of writing, the Bulls side is yet to be named, but it appears that Victor Matfield will again lead the team despite all his game time in a strenuous test series. The Bulls still has an outside chance of making the play-offs, but the spin doctors will be able to do the final calculations before the kick-off. Will he be replaced at half time if the dice falls wrong for his side?
It is quite apparent that the strategy of relying on player loyalty is not working to keep our top players here. How SARU plans to turn this around, is not clear. In fact, I do not think they have an answer to this, with the SA Rand’s weakness a further factor working against them.
At this rate, SARU may soon find that local rugby fans spend a lot more time viewing their favourite players on TV when they play in the Heineken Cup, than they do watching local matches. The fans are already scarce at the stadiums for interprovincial games, and may just disappear, together with the top players, leaving the administrators with reduced income from TV rights.
I suspect that calling for empathy for the players will be met with hollow promises.
Tell them that their revenue will be affected, and you have a far better chance of seeing the right thing being done to ensure that the players, and supporters, get a better deal than what we currently have.