A top Springbok can earn up to R1-million a month in Japan. When the annual contract is broken down it equates to hundreds of thousands of Rand per match in the Japanese Top League. In Europe, and especially France, the money being thrown at Test players from the southern hemisphere is just as lucrative.
Right now there are around 600 senior contracted players in South Africa, earning salaries from their respective unions. There are, more or less, the same amount of South African-born players earning their keep abroad. Ever heard of Naudé Beukes, Hanno Dirksen, Thor Halvorsen, Braam Steyn and Graham Knoop? Didn’t think so. They’re all South Africans playing at clubs in Europe, earning euros and pounds and making a very good living. Many of them have never come close to playing Currie Cup rugby, but at their respective clubs in England, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and France they’re earning up to e5000 per month; that is in the region of R70000. On top of that the players usually get put up in a house and are given a vehicle.
In South Africa, a Currie Cup player, with a little Super Rugby experience, will bank between R500000 and R700000 per year. Now, if the same Currie Cup player, with, let’s say 20 Super Rugby caps, moves to England or France, he’d earn between R1.5m and R2.5m, without benefits.
That figure doubles if a player has at least 50 Super Rugby caps and is regarded a seasoned campaigner. He’d earn between R3m and R5m in Europe. In South Africa he’d get about R2m per year from his union. But if said player is also a Bok and has a national contract you can add on another one to two million, giving him a very nice package.
But, it still doesn’t compare with what the overseas clubs in Europe and Japan can offer such a player.
Current Springboks who’ll be considered by Heyneke Meyer this year and for next year’s World Cup and who play abroad include Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez, Francois Louw, Morné Steyn and Bakkies Botha.
Other high profile Boks who’ve left these shores in recent times include Zane Kirchner, Andries Bekker, Juandré Kruger, Peter Grant, Ryan Kankowski, Dewald Potgieter, Heinrich Brüssow ... the list goes on and on. And now we hear Gio Aplon, Keegan Daniel, Charl McLeod and Franco van der Merwe are also leaving these shores. Johan Goosen, too, may opt for a contract in France.
The simple reality is the South African Rugby Union, whether they want to or not, cannot keep the players in South Africa, not when the local currency is so weak and the offers from abroad are so high.
Currently 20 players have Springbok contracts; the rest though are free to move around as they wish. “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,” Saru CEO Jurie Roux said last year. “Countries in the southern hemisphere have faced this challenge since the game went professional in 1996,” he added. “We have large numbers of high quality players for which there is a significant demand in major world economies. Springbok players are well paid but those salaries can be more than matched in the northern hemisphere where tax breaks and other incentives can also be thrown in. Our players want to play for the Springboks but the financial case for a move can be irresistible.
“We understand and respect that motivation and as much as we’d love to retain all our players, the rugby economy in this country simply isn’t big enough to do that.”
Saru, together with a task team, are currently looking into their commercial model to try and change the current situation which is resulting in more and more players, including youngsters, heading overseas.
It has been learnt that the England and French television deals are massive for those countries, which allows them to pay millions to foreign players. The Sanzar deal – when Super Rugby expands in 2016 – simply has to be sold for top dollar; that would result in a big upswing in revenue. Also, sponsorships need to be looked at.
The New Zealand Rugby union, for example, have apparently doubled their revenue since AIG came on board.
More money in the coffers of the national body means more money to contract players and keep them in South Africa. It is understood the ideal is to contract at least 30 to 40 senior players as well as several juniors, but currently Saru do not have the funds to do so. A proposal going forward could see Saru and the individual unions sharing contracting costs, which would allow the national body a greater say in the management of the players.
Going abroad though isn’t only about the money. Du Preez, who plays in Japan but is available for the Boks for big parts of the year, said the following last season when he returned to the national team: “I went there to escape the pressure and limelight. Japan changed my life completely.
“My family and I are learning so much ... my rugby is different nowadays, my life is different. It was the best decision for my rugby and for me as a person.
“The Japanese culture gave me a new sense of values of respect and patience.”
Van der Merwe, who’s headed to Ulster after the Super Rugby season, said he wanted to play under different coaches and learn more about the game, in a different environment. “I want to grow as a player, get new ideas from new coaches ... and it’s something new and different.”
This week, however, All Blacks boss Steve Hansen criticised players for moving abroad. “Players who put money ahead of an All Blacks jersey lack ‘mental fortitude’. It is frustrating and it is disappointing.
“Players here have a dream of playing for the All Blacks and then they suddenly give it up when an easier option comes along,” he said. “It’s not their dream, but they decide to go for it, and I think we need players with a bit more mental fortitude.”
Meyer’s take on the matter is slightly different. “Losing experienced players to overseas teams is not ideal, but it’s their right to further their careers abroad,” he said last year.
The Bok boss will name his first training group in the coming days for the June Tests against a World XV, Wales and Scotland. Expect a good few overseas-based players to be part of the squad.
Currie Cup player, limited Super Rugby experience
In SA: R500000-R700000/year
In Europe: R1.5m-R2.5m/year
Currie Cup and Super Rugby
In SA: R1.5m-R2m/year
In Europe: R3m-R5m/year
SA club player in Europe
Senior Bok in Japan
Senior Bok in Europe
Senior Bok in SA
R4m-plus/year (incl provincial contract, win bonuses, commercial work) - The Star