No obvious solution to foreign exodus
It feels like it has become an almost weekly occurrence – my SMS light flashing with a message asking how the hell yet another South African player has been let slip the net and is heading overseas.
It happened during the series between the Springboks and England, with Wynand Olivier and Ryan Kankowski both being linked to moves to Japan. “How the hell can that be allowed to happen?” it was asked.
Well the answer is that when it comes to Japan it can happen easily, with the lure of the Yen having already played havoc with new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s best-laid plans. The first player to tell him he wasn’t available was Jaque Fourie. While Jean de Villiers has done well at outside centre so far, there is no denying that Fourie’s non-availability has left a massive hole in the depth available.
Fourie is a good example to use when trying to explain why losing a player to Japan is not something that can necessarily be blamed on the union the player leaves. Fourie had verbally committed himself to continuing his career with the Stormers before last year’s World Cup, and all that remained to be done was getting him to sign on the dotted line.
However before that could happen there were two Japanese offers. The first one wasn’t too much of a concern to Western Province as it would have enabled Fourie to continue his Super Rugby career in the same way that Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant has done. But then came the second offer, and as Stormers managing director Rob Wagner himself admitted to me at the time, it was one that no sane person could possibly refuse.
The sort of money we are talking about was enough to kill off any remaining international ambitions for a player who had already played in three World Cups, earning a winners' medal in one of them. I don’t know Danie Rossouw’s position as well as I know Fourie’s, but it was reportedly a similar story with him – when Meyer phoned him he was enjoying his foreign currency fishing on Kariba and he couldn’t understand why Heyneke would think he wanted to play international rugby again.
Then there was Fourie du Preez. There were some critics who were pleased that Du Preez eventually changed his mind about continuing his Springbok career as Meyer’s chosen captain, but it is debatable that they will be as pleased now that we have seen the Boks play three tests without him.
Talented though Francois Hougaard is as a rugby player, his time spent on the wing does appear to have eroded his potential as a scrumhalf, something that his former mentors at the WP Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch warned about a couple of years back. Hougaard is simply not in the same class as Du Preez as a decision-maker or tactical kicker.
So we know Japan is creating a problem. What can we do about it? Unfortunately very little, for by the accounts of those who have interviewed the players, more than just money is a factor. Du Preez for instance has been quite open about how fed up he became with the ridiculously tough Super Rugby schedule and he is enjoying playing a less frenetic type of rugby and playing less frequently.
The removal of the amount of travelling that has to be done has also played a big role in luring other older married players who are concerned about the disruptions to family life caused by having to travel halfway across the world to Australasia twice a year and, if you are a Bok, to the northern hemisphere. There you seldom have to go away from your family for more than a weekend and the flight is never longer than an hour or two.
Then there is the other type of player that leaves – the type represented by CJ Stander and Quinn Roux, two young players with immense potential who are reportedly off to Ireland. I was asked in a Supersport.com Q & A last week what I thought Stander’s reasons for leaving were. I didn’t know at the time and I still don’t know, but I was willing to wager that part of it was an understanding that Meyer doesn’t rate him, as shown by his selections thus far.
Roux, if indeed he is heading away at the age of just 21, is probably in the same bracket, though in his case he may see the way blocked by the traffic jam of young locks in the Stormers region. It is a fact that Roux is probably more than good enough to play Super Rugby, but it is even more of a fact that you can only have so many locks in a team.
With most of the playing depth in this country located in the main centres, at the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks, it is inevitable that there will be good players who will end up feeling disaffected and opt to move away if offered the opportunity to earn foreign currency.
The Sharks lost a good one in Gerhard Mostert this time last year, and doubtless there will be more in the coming months. It’s just the way it is and no-one involved in rugby is really at fault. If you want to lay blame, blame the economy.