Former Springbok World Cup-winning coach Jake White
Former Springbok World Cup-winning coach Jake White

A crime not to select overseas-based players

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Jan 14, 2022

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CAPE TOWN- Brazil has consistently set the standard in international football, but if you asked the national team to do it without their foreign-based players, they’d struggle to win the matches they do and be the force they are in the Copa America and World Cup.

In Brazil’s most recent matches, eight UK-based Premier League players were selected in Alisson, Ederson, Emerson, Thiago Silva, Fabinho, Fred, Raphinha and Gabriel Jesus. Then there are others playing in the top leagues of Europe.

It would be short-sighted madness if the Brazilian national team restricted the quality of its squad to just local-based players.

Brazil’s local currency cannot compete with the salaries and contracts of their very best players who play club football outside of Brazil. It is simply the economics of professional football, and rugby, still a relative infant in professionalism when compared to football, is no different.

I was surprised to read Bulls coach and former Springbok World Cup-winning coach Jake White promoting the principle that only locally based players should be eligible for the Springboks.

It makes no sense, and history shows it makes no sense in terms of South African player demand overseas and Springboks Test results without the very best of those players who are based in Europe and the UK.

With South Africa’s top four franchises competing in the United Rugby Championship against the best of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, it would also make no sense to exclude those South Africans playing in that competition for overseas sides, but include the South Africans playing for South African teams.

We saw what happened a few years ago when Springbok coaches were not permitted to pick overseas-based South African players. The Springboks were ranked seventh in the world and were regularly humiliated in Test matches. When Rassie Eramsus was given carte blanche to pick whoever he felt was the best, regardless of where they played, the Boks won the Rugby Championship, the World Cup and beat the British & Irish Lions in a three-Test series.

Erasmus and his successor Jacques Nienaber have found a seemingly perfect balance between the best among the locals and the best of those overseas-based South Africans, with the national squad mostly an even split.

The national team must always be the priority when it comes to sport, and in this particular case the Springboks.

The best players in the local franchises will always be a target for overseas club owners, and why limit a player’s earning capacity with the outdated notion that the player will sacrifice commercial value on what is a limited playing career to play for his country?

If anything, the fact that every player is available to play Test rugby is a deterrent to those club owners in France and England who seek out quality overseas players to make up for those occasions when their best national team players are unavailable.

We’ve recently seen the criticism aimed at Springboks Handre Pollard and Eben Etzebeth from club owners Montpellier and Toulon because of the lack of club game time due to international commitments and subsequent injury.

Players, in this age, are fortunate if their professional careers last a decade. Most give it horns for five years, and only a handful go beyond 10.

The South African rugby landscape just can’t compete with the international market, and why would a player settle for getting R3 million a year when he could get a million euros a year?

I’ve not known of any South African player who doesn’t want to represent the Springboks, and the ultimate victory is in winning World Cups, which the Springboks did in 2019 with so many players who didn’t play their domestic rugby in South Africa.

The thinking has to evolve among local coaches and rugby bosses that it is no crime for South African players to accept lucrative club contracts overseas, and the only crime would be punishing them – and by extension South African rugby supporters – by not selecting them for the Springboks.

Cape Times

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