When Allister Coetzee came out publicly, making the bold statement that he would give preference to local based players, he was generally praised. The belief being that the local talent, breaking their back in Super Rugby, deserve the accolades of Springbok selection. But is Coetzee pre-empting a potential problem with the globalized rugby phenomenon that is sweeping the planet?
Springboks Roaming The Rugby World
South African players are in a unique situation where they have a pretty free rein in where they ply their trade at club level, with still being able to play for the national team – for now.
Currently, four players in AC’s current squad play their rugby overseas – in France and England namely, but a host of other players also have contracts to play in Japan during their season from November to late January.
On top of that, there are a few players that will be heading overseas at the conclusion of Super Rugby this year that are definitely still in coach Coetzee’s plans. While this all sound pretty innocuous, there are a few indications to look into that could be spelling out a problem.
Before the June series began, there was a bit of a hubbub surrounding Duane Vermeulen’s participation for the Boks as his French club Toulon wanted him for their all-important play-offs. Vermeulen was given an ultimatum to either report for Bok duty, or stay in France with his club and tender his resignation from international rugby. The thing is, it appeared that Vermeulen was considering staying, and secondly, his French club, and their eccentric owner Mourad Boudjellal, was adamant that he should stay.
As it turned out, World Rugby has a regulation that stops clubs keeping their players during international windows, however, bear in mind, the formal international windows only spans over June and November
WIllie le Roux has turned down a Springbok contract this year in order to allow him free choice of club, as well as taking a pay top-up in Japan. This seems to indicate that he may not be at the Sharks next year, with rumours suggesting Wasps are hunting his signature. But what it all means is that the clubs are holding a lot more sway in these player’s minds.
Clubs Starting To Hold On To Their Assets?
So, with all this in mind, what happens when the clubs start flexing their muscles against national teams? Mourad Boudjellal has barked plenty about paying his players to play for their countries, but what if he decided to get his teeth out?
With the English and French seasons starting towards the end of August, and the Rugby Championship also starting in the same month, what happens if the clubs, quite rightly, demand their players (assets) for the start of the season?
Francois Louw is Bath’s captain, Duane Vermeulen and Bryan Habana are comfortable starters for Toulon, JP Pietersen, potentially Willie le Roux, Nic Groom and Franco Mostert should be expected to be at pre-season for their new clubs (Leicester, Wasps, Northampton and Lyon respectively), even Steven Kitshoff and Morne Steyn would be wanted by Bordeaux and Stade Francais from the first game.
The above effectively rules out nine Springboks from Coetzee’s plans in the all-important clashes with the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas.
Another problem that would really put a big spanner in the works is if the Japanese clubs start demanding their players as well. As it stands, the Japanese clubs seem quite happy to only get their Springboks, as well as Wallabies, in December and for January, and still fork out the Yen. But as has been seen this season alone, this so-called top-up actually equates to an additional two to three months of rugby in a season which impacts negatively for the national team.
SA Rugby faced with a double-edged sword
The above all makes for a very sticky situation, leaving South African rugby and Coetzee facing a double edged sword.
As mentioned you want to reward local talent, and loyalty towards future Bok aspirations, however, the reality is that player depth and experience, especially at key positions such as hooker, 8th man, and flyhalf does not necessarily allow for such a local based selection policy to be implemented, not for the time being anyway.
However, the opposite is also true where we could clearly see the effect of player fatigue among some of the current day greats, in Vermeulen, and Francois Louw.
Whether the lacklustre performance by the latter can indeed be contributed towards fatigue rather than a lack of motivation to play and bleed for the green and gold does make for an interesting argument, however both Louw and Vermeulen has served South African rugby well over the years and we would like to give them the benefit of the doubt.
We have written on a previous occasion how a weak South African rand, amongst other contributing factors, is leading towards a mass player exodus, a trend which will surely only get worse as South Africa sinks further down the pit of the African continent.
With all things considered, yes supporters have every right to feel angry at players leaving the very clubs who have launched them into super stardom, with that being said rugby is a professional sport and at the end of the day the highest bidder wins…who rarely is the South African rugby public.
Perhaps one, if not the only solution, to make it a win for all, will be for World Rugby to start enforcing a transfer fee, payable to the club from which the player is being acquired. This will allow the necessary resources for the local based franchise(s) to keep the production line ticking, instead of feeling cheated out of a player they have spend a number of years and resources on developing.
Do you agree local based players should get preference in terms of national selection? As always drop us a comment and let us know your thoughts!