First, it was Peter Grant, then Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie. They were followed by the likes of Gurthrö Steenkamp, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Ryan Kankowski.
All these quality players decided to play their rugby overseas and leave South African rugby behind. Now the latest group of top-class talent will be lost to the local game – Bryan Habana, Andries Bekker, and yesterday, JP Pietersen and Zane Kirchner announced that they are moving to foreign countries too.
Stormers scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage is in line to play for a French club as well, and Lions captain JC Janse van Rensburg will also play in the same country after the Super Rugby promotion-relegation games in July. There have been others moving overseas like CJ Stander and Quinn Roux too.
Of course, many of these players are going for the massive amounts of money being thrown around Japan and France these days, and you can’t blame them for that. But I think that a big part of the reason for the move is the amount of rugby that they have to play when they are affiliated to a South African rugby team.
This is the typical season of a top Springbok player: start Super Rugby pre-season training in January, play in the tournament from late February until the first week of June, then play three Tests in three weeks, then go back to Super Rugby until mid-July. If his franchise reaches the playoffs, he could continue until the first week of August. Then the Rugby Championship starts two weeks later, and goes on until the first week of October.
Then that player returns to his province to play in the last Currie Cup league game and probably a semi-final and maybe a final. The Boks then go on the end-of-year tour in the first week of November until the end of the month. He then gets the whole of December off, and starts the vicious cycle in January again!
Springbok and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers made a joke at a recent press conference when asked how his body was feeling after the Sharks game: “I remember the coach said at the start of the year that he was going to rotate the senior players at the right times, so I will just wait and see when that happens!”
Coach Allister Coetzee was sitting alongside De Villiers at the time and just smiled, and his captain is known for his wisecracks at press conferences, but the issue at hand is not a funny one. De Villiers missed only a few Super Rugby games out of the 17 Stormers games last year, then played in all 12 Bok Tests. He also played a Currie Cup game for Western Province, but sustained a hamstring strain in the build-up to the semi-final and was ruled out for three weeks.
He did manage to go on the Bok tour in November, though. That’s about 28 games for the year. I believe Jannie du Plessis played about 34 matches in 2012. Not bad going for a tighthead prop! Eben Etzebeth would also not be far behind on the list of most games played in 2012, and it arguably played a role in him breaking down in the first Stormers warm-up game against Boland in February.
All that rugby will catch up with the guys if they keep doing it for five or six years in a row. They will soon say “enough is enough” and move overseas, where they will be managed better and be paid much more money.
The lure of the Springbok jersey and the accompanying financial rewards is proving to be not enough to keep our top players in South Africa. The SA Rugby Union is in a difficult position, as they aren’t able to contract the players on a fulltime basis yet.
That would enable them to be in control of how many games the players should play in a year, and be able to hand “sabbaticals” to some, like New Zealand did with Richie McCaw, who won’t play any Super Rugby this year so that he can play for the All Blacks in top condition, and Dan Carter.
The best solution for me would be to do away with the double round of local derbies in Super Rugby, as those games are extremely physical between the South African teams, and give more frequent two-week breaks to all players during a season. If that doesn’t happen, then the quality of our Super Rugby teams will also be affected, not just the Currie Cup, which is already virtually a two-game competition (semis and final). With the Southern Kings in the mix and the Lions getting ready for a promotion-relegation match, the talent pool is spread thinly across six franchises.
The coaches and administrators of all Currie Cup and Super Rugby teams, as well as the Bok management, need to lessen the load on the players if we are to retain them and maintain the high standard of rugby in our country.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@Doogz (Damian de Allende on his first Stormers tour): Awesome out here with the #dhlstormers in New Zealand! Having a nice cup of coffee #starbuck #goodtimes
WHO TO FOLLOW
@jantjies_elton: The Stormers flyhalf is new to Twitter, and this is the man himself, not a false account.
w Follow Ashfak Mohamed on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed