JOHANNESBURG - Several high-quality Bulls players became greats of the game because they won the World Cup, but also because they managed to bag one or more Super Rugby titles.
Here one thinks of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, and others. These men won every major trophy that was going at the time - between 2007 and 2010 - and now, on the verge of the start of the 2019 Super Rugby competition, and also in a World Cup year, one can only wonder whether some other, new, players, will join this elite grouping.
For many of the current leading group, the next few months will be a last chance, perhaps, of bagging a Super Rugby title - considered one of the hardest titles to win. Also, the next few weeks and months will possibly be the last time rugby fans get a look at some of their heroes in their franchise colours, because one thing is certain post the World Cup in Japan, some of this country’s best players will say goodbye to South Africa.
The big trek north, to earn pounds and Euros and experience a lifestyle quite different to that in South Africa, is something that happens every four years. Only this time, more big-name players than ever before are set to move to Europe.
The Lions look set to be hardest hit.
In the last two years they have lost the likes of Ruan Ackermann, Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Franco Mostert and Jaco van der Walt, who have all gone on to star for their respective Europe-based teams. They didn’t even wait for the “four-year-cycle” but left for better things in between World Cups.
But, come later this year and the rumour mill will go into over-drive about players signing for overseas-based teams. Several Lions players, for example, were linked to European clubs late last year, but the majority were persuaded to sign for one more season.
Warren Whiteley and Kwagga Smith could opt for a move, and so, too, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee - all seasoned Boks with plenty to offer. After three Super Rugby final defeats in a row, will 2019 be their year?
At the Bulls, Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits will hope they can add the Super Rugby title to their list of achievements before they head elsewhere or retire, while one can only speculate about where the likes of Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Lood de Jager, Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel will be a year today.
Stormers and Bok hardman Eben Etzebeth has been linked with Toulon. Where will Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi play their rugby next year? Will Bok skipper Siya Kolisi and now two-time Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit turn down big money-offers? Also, several Sharks players may only decide to stay if they feel they have a Bok future ... perhaps Curwin Bosch, the Du Preez brothers, Jean-Luc, Dan and Rob, Louis Schreuder, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo ... or they, too, could be headed north.
South Africa’s four Super Rugby teams will have a very familiar look about them when the competition kicks off, but that won’t be the case in 2020. Not even a chance of playing against the British and Irish Lions in 2021 will be enough to keep SA’s best and most bankable players from taking up big money offers.
The exodus will hit SA rugby hard come the end of this year, so rugby fans must enjoy watching the best of the best over the coming months.@jacq_west