We'll close all the deals - Ludeke
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has denied there is an exodus of players pending at the Super Rugby franchise, and has said he will do everything in his power to ensure that all the players whose contracts are expiring stay at the team for the foreseeable future.
Ludeke’s comments come after supersport.com reported there was unhappiness in the players’ camp at the current negotiations, with senior players such as Morne Steyn, Juandre Kruger and this week Zane Kirchner announcing deals abroad, while it is almost certain that Wynand Olivier and Jacques Potgieter will be leaving at the end of the current Vodacom Super Rugby season.
In addition to this, players such as Jano Vermaak, Willie Wepener and Dewald Potgieter have been offered new contracts where they were expected to take drastic salary cuts – in Vermaak’s case, close to half of his current salary – if they were to sign on at the Bulls again. In addition to this, despite receiving a bigger offer to renew, midfielder Francois Venter rejected the opening offer from the Bulls, with all these prompting fears that there may be a mass exodus looming.
But Ludeke said his goal was to build continuity in the team, and although players were leaving, he would “close all the deals.”
“Continuity is vital, and it is still a pillar. We need to build a core of strength around senior players who understand the Bulls way. It is still a key pillar for us. At this stage Zane is the only one leaving, all the others we knew about. And on all the outstanding contracts we are in the final phases of negotiation. We will close all the deals. It is a professional era and there are a lot of attractive offers from overseas that make it tough,” Ludeke said.
“It is not just us, but all the provinces have the same challenge. We are positive though, we would like to keep all our players. We will do everything in our power to secure them for as long as they want to stay at the Bulls. We are building, and we would like to stay a family. At the end of the day, it is still early days in negotiations. I won’t call it an exodus, there are some negotiations taking place because there are players ending their contracts at the end of the year, but we are positive.”
The Bulls coach said that it was now an accepted fact that franchises couldn’t compete financially with offers from abroad, but were hoping the dream of playing for the Springboks and other factors would convince them to stay.
“It must be more than finance. Financially for any player, it is important for them to do well and put something together for their families and for their future. We respect that as well. The players we spoke to respect that the South African market can’t compete with the overseas market and that is why it is more than just money that is a factor. The player-friendly environment and facilities need to be there, you need to have good structures as well and the player needs to enjoy the environment. That is when players will stay, especially if there is still that dream to play for South Africa. It is definitely a challenge. You will always lose players, especially when that player is not the first choice in a national side, he becomes a very attractive player for overseas clubs. Those are the players they throw money at. It’s more a package, but money is vital and we know that.”
Ludeke didn’t want to get drawn on whether Bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s recent willingness to choose players based abroad was making their job in keeping players more difficult.
“It’s hard to say. I think it’s tempting to say yes, but all the players that we talk too – if they are happy then they will stay. If they still have faith in the system and they want to be successful they will stay. If there still a chance to play for the Boks they want to play.”
Part of the Bulls' problem is the fact they need to up the salary contracts of their young stars and, with income being relatively set, there aren’t too many options on how to do this.