Clinton van der Berg.
If rugby’s tectonic plates have been shifting for a while, their movement looks likely to be accelerated by events in Los Angeles this week.

The high and mighty of the rugby world came together to talk about re-shaping the global game.

There’s fertile ground for doing so: an anonymous benefactor waiting, like a rich uncle, in the wings; the inability to reach consensus on a global season; and, an existential crisis around the very game rugby wants to be, underpinned by growing concerns around injury and concussion.

So too the increased body mass of players. Just ask the magnificent  and now retired  Pat Lambie, who may have been too brave for his own good, a relative midget in a world of giants.

In America, there was bold talk of a World League and perhaps even the winners of the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship meeting in a grand finale. Given how soccer has embraced contemporary demands, you must wonder why rugby has dragged its feet?

Here at home, crowds are down, apathy is up. The player drain is a perpetual worry.

SA’s economy is in the dwang, and rugby feels it hard. The Stormers are a case in point, having to count their Rands and cents at every turn.

Local players roll up their sleeves and assimilate easily overseas, making them good value for foreign clubs. The weak Rand makes Europe and Asia particularly appealing, but this is only half the story.

Any player looks forward to the adventure that awaits, be it England, Tokyo or France. Culturally, a new and exciting world awaits.

Just ask Joe van Niekerk, the bon vivant who now lives in the jungles of Costa Rica after an epic club career in Europe, as young lock Paul Willemse hinted at this week in the wake of his selection for France.

Arriving in Grenoble four years ago, he was struck by the ordinariness of daily life. “It was the first time I had seen a woman walk alone at 10 at night and children taking the bus alone,” he said this week.

For a newly-married man with family ambitions, this was an important consideration. Europeans may be blasé about such observations, but South Africans will recognise the relief in his statement. It’s one of the key reasons why SA rugby agents have turnstiles at their offices. Business is good if you have a half-decent player on your books.

There’s talk of Springbok contracting being redesigned, but these are the sort of things you can’t mitigate against. For all of SA’s pleasures, how do you put a value on personal safety or peace of mind?

Rugby isn’t an island. There’s no stopping the exodus.


Sunday Tribune

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