CAPE TOWN – There is just something indescribably frustrating about seeing key Springbok players not being available for their national side because of club commitments. Especially in games where they are really needed.
In South Africa’s 12-11 loss to England in the opening game of their end-of-year tour, Angus Gardner’s shocking call in the last minute was bad enough.
But seeing first-choice Bok scrumhalf, Faf de Klerk, watch on – from the stands - as his team hurt themselves through poor decision-making and wasted opportunities wasn’t a particularly pleasant sight either.
De Klerk was unavailable for the Springboks’ tour-opener along with the rest of the overseas-based Boks as the Test fell outside of the international window. De Klerk, Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw and Vincent Koch have since joined the squad in Paris and are all available for selection against France on Saturday.
As frustrating as that television zoom-in on De Klerk was, signing for overseas clubs is obviously a choice those players make themselves. His, or their, absence is just one of the things that comes with putting black on white with European clubs.
Expecting the Boks-first mentality to fully come into fruition anytime soon is probably about as pointless as hoping that certain referees would actually use the TMOs and technology they have at their disposal to make good decisions. And opting for loyalty is certainly less fashionable than joining the trend of raking up pounds and euros. But what is it doing to SA rugby?
The effects of the ever-growing exodus of SA players has been clear at Currie Cup level, but the Boks have also had their fair share of inconveniences and the need to resort to stop-gap selections to make up for the absence of some players.
Yeah, sport has become a business and every athlete has the right to “look after themselves” and ply their trade wherever they want to. So I guess there also can’t be too much talk about loyalty and having pride in the jersey. But if that overseas-based player happens to be a vital cog in the Bok machine, then there should be stricter rules.
The 30-cap rule was one bid aimed at keeping players within SA’s borders, although the efficacy of the system can be debated. But with that now a thing of the past, something needs to be done to ensure that being available for international duty over sitting a few Tests out because of “club commitments” takes first priority.
It’s actually quite ridiculous if you think about it - clubs getting to call the shots as to when international players can represent their countries. And it’s even more ridiculous when you think of how many such instances the Boks have had to deal with this season alone - one year out of the World Cup.
Earlier this season, it was reported that SA Rugby are planning on scrapping Bok contracts and paying bigger Test-match fees instead. Should the move - expected to come into effect in 2020 - be approved, it could put a stop to the who-will-be-available-or-not speculation that the SA rugby public have had to entertain for so long.
Again, the battle to tighten the lid on departing players won’t be won by next week, next month, or even next year. But whenever happens, it can only be a good thing for SA rugby.