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Rugby | Springboks

Talent export means divided loyalties

From the heart of one of South Africa's wine regions, the Botes family of Worcester will trek to Durban this weekend to watch rugby but they will not be supporting their beloved Springboks.

Instead they will be cheering on opponents Italy because their son Tobias is in the matchday squad and likely to get a run-out as substitute against the country of his birth.

"I've bought them all Italian jerseys to wear, 10 in total," the scrumhalf said on the eve of Saturday's test at the Kings Park Rugby Stadium.

"To play for the Boks is the dream of every South African child but it is also an honour to face up against them and I'm very proud to be able to do so in the jersey of Italy."

It will be the second successive test South Africa play against opponents with a South African-born player in the side.

In November last year they faced an England squad with Brad Barritt and Mouritz Botha among their number.

Ireland, France and Scotland all have imports from South Africa in their line-ups for internationals on Saturday.

Emigration, the racial quota system in South African sport or just plain economic opportunity have turned the country into a prodigious exporter of talent - not only in rugby.


Last year's cricket series to decide top test ranking status pitted South Africa against an English team with several key South African-born players in a derby of sorts.

Daily Telegraph cartoonist Matt drew one spectator at the Oval saying to another: "Their South Africans are better than our South Africans."

Kevin Pietersen's rise up the English ranks, after leaving South Africa because he felt his progress was being stymied by a policy of promoting black players from previously disadvantaged communities, has made him a figure of controversy at home.

The 32-year-old batsman was roundly jeered when he came out to bat at South African grounds.

Crowds have been less opinionated about Jonathan Trott, who played for South Africa at under-19 level but left to try his luck on the county circuit and qualified for England, like Pietersen, through ancestry.

"Hats off to him," then South Africa coach Mickey Arthur said, while expressing frustration at the defection. "He's gone and forged a successful career for himself."

Just last week the Proteas defeated Netherlands in a warm-up ODI where the opposing opening batsmen were both South African-born.

During the Apartheid era, sportsmen sought out other nationalities to get around the ban on South African participation.

Zola Budd was a controversial runner for Britain at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and athlete Sydney Mareewent to the United States and qualified to represent them in the 5 000m at the Seoul Games in 1988, becoming a folk hero at the same time for the black community back home.

In recent times reasons for changing allegiance have been less obvious.

Frantz Kruger won a discus bronze for South Africa at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 but in Beijing eight years later was competing in the colours of Finland against former teammates - because he had married a triple jumper from that country and settled down in Helsinki. He still holds the African record.


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