SARU seems to have performed a complete 180 on the issue of foreign-based players representing the Springboks. The new message is clear: stay here and play for your spots, or go overseas and face exclusion.
This is quite a turnaround from the statement made my Hoskins not 3 weeks ago that coach Peter de Villiers would be free to pick as many overseas-based players as he wanted to. Somebody obviously whispered in the President’s ear that this move was likely to result in a veritable tsunami of top players deserting South Africa’s shores in search of a lucrative Pound-based pay packet. The turnaround came shortly afterwards; there would now be a limit of three overseas players that could be picked. Everyone else would need to be living and playing in South Africa to stand a chance of representing the Boks.
Apparently, once again, it has been a frankly ridiculous demand from a (former) Bulls player that has forced SARU’s hand. Victor Matfield, missing the Pretoria lifestyle, yet unable to walk away from the obscene sums of money on offer in France and the UK (he has reportedly been offered almost R6 Million a season to play for Northampton) has issued a ludicrous ultimatum to the powers that be. Matfield expects to be paid R3 Million a year to come back to South Africa. The Bulls, unable to afford this sum on their own, have approached the national body to make up the shortfall.
SARU have extended the middle finger in Matfield’s general direction. They say they can’t afford to meet his demands and that even if they could, they wouldn’t as the precedent that would be set would be frankly disastrous. The choice is being laid sqaurely at the feet of each player now; to take the money or to continue playing for their country.
On the one hand, I must say I agree with this stance. Expecting to be offered a salary in Rands that is comparable to what could be earned overseas is just not reality. There is a conundrum here that is faced by many South Africans in all walk of life and across the career spectrum; the fact is, you can earn a lot more money if you go overseas. This is offset to a large extent by the far higher cost of living in Europe, but at the kinds of sums being offered to top rugby players, that hardly seems a real issue.
Consider, for an example, the difficulties for the national body and coach of having a squad, 70% of whom are based outside of the country. Trying to accurately gauge form relative to domestic players will become impossible, as it is not easy to compare the standard of opposition faced. Even more worrying is the prospect of the “club v country” debate that has turned soccer into such a mess. Clubs hold players to ransom, often refusing to release them for international duty outside of a number of small windows each season. Looking at what happens with Bafana Bafana, several big name players put their club commitments so far ahead of the national interest that they simply don’t bother to turn up when selected. Professional soccer players have a clear set of priorities, it would seem and securing their sizable club pay packet is always more important than representing their countries.
I would hate to see rugby go the same way.
That said, though, it would seem as thought many South African player come on in leaps and bounds once they leave the suffocating environment of local rugby and are exposed to international ideas, thinking and training methods. Going and playing overseas makes many of our players a lot better and it would be foolish to discard this talent and experience, as it could only strengthen the national side. Enforcing a limit on the number of foreign players that can be picked would seem to be the only way to strike a reasonable balance, but only time will tel whether htis move will have the desired results.Tweet