Johannesburg – Record try-scorer Bryan Habana was one of six senior internationals not awarded a Springboks contract on Wednesday as coach Heyneke Meyer said the trend of players moving to overseas clubs was “not ideal” for his plans.
Habana, who has 47 tries in 83 tests, and the other five players would have been awarded a national contract for 2013 if not for their decisions to move to Europe or Japan, the South African Rugby Union said.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn, fullback Zane Kirchner, wing JP Pietersen and locks Andries Bekker and Juandre Kruger were also left off the 15-player list as they're set to leave South Africa toward the end of the season. SARU said a further five national contracts were still available and would be awarded later.
SARU chief executive Jurie Roux recognized a trend which has been exacerbated by the weakening of the South African currency and has seen top Springboks - and not only fringe players - take up big-money contracts overseas.
“We've kept as many of our top players in South Africa as we could by awarding them national contracts, despite the powerful lure of the pound, euro and yen,” Roux said.
Habana has signed for big-spending Toulon of France and will move at the end of the Super Rugby season, although the prolific wing has said he will continue to be available for the Springboks. However, there are obvious logistical difficulties in having senior national team members playing in the European or Japanese seasons.
“Losing experienced players to overseas teams is not ideal, but it's their right to further their careers abroad,” coach Meyer said.
In response, SARU named a reasonably young 15-man group of centrally contracted players with an average age of 26.
Captain Jean de Villiers, flyhalf Pat Lambie, 21-year-old lock Eben Etzebeth and front-row regulars Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis all were given contracts, as were loose forwards Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Pierre Spies and Duane Vermeulen.
Habana ended 2012 in top form, while fellow wing Pietersen and Kirchner were first choices in their positions. Bekker and Kruger were South Africa's top two No. 5 locks last season. Although Steyn lost his starting place, he was expected to remain important for the Springboks this year after the loss to injury of young No. 10
Pietersen is set to play in Japan and may not be available for the Boks' Rugby Championship campaign against world champions New Zealand, Australia and Argentina over the next two seasons. Kirchner and Kruger will also likely miss time in the national jersey, while towering second-rower Bekker was left out of Meyer's first Springboks squad of the season, suggesting he won't be considered at all while he plays in Japan.
Starting scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and openside flank Francois Louw already play overseas. – Sapa-AP