JOHANNESBURG - StarCraft. Growing up, it was one of my favourite video games and even 20 years later it holds a significant place in the cockles of the heart. It is considered a classic in the real-time strategy genre and has escaped the confines of its platform to influence pop-culture, so much so that in some countries it has defined entire generations.
I know it might seem strange, but StarCraft got me thinking about the Pro14, in which the Cheetahs and Kings now participate.
For you see, in that franchise of games, to complete missions and obtain victory, resource management is key. Ignoring those resources or not using them correctly means that units cannot be trained, buildings cannot be built and progression to top tier infrastructures cannot be obtained. Eventual defeat, however long the survival, can be the only outcome.
The Pro14 is similar, insomuch that it is a resource for SA rugby to exploit and build upon but if not managed correctly, it can become a wasted opportunity in the drive to obtain victory. And it could be a major new resource, one that our Southern Hemisphere competitors, the All Blacks and Wallabies, do not have.
It could yet define generations of South African players and the Springboks.
There are more than 300 pro-rugby South Africans plying their trade overseas, of which a matchday 23 plays in the various Pro14 teams. Only three franchises in that league (excluding the two South African franchises, obviously) - Italy’s Benetton and Ireland's Connacht and Leinster - do not have South African representation. Our entry into the competition now opens insight, one that was obscure until recently, to watch those players and gauge their skills, form and national viability.
This requires the custodians of rugby in our country, Saru, to revisit their policy set out last year, regarding overseas-based players. The conditions in which we play our rugby has already moved on and evolved. But back then, before our association with the Pro14 changed our rugby landscape, the national union decided that only those players who work abroad with 30 Bok caps or more, would be eligible for a national call-up, narrowing a field of hundreds to a manageable handful but also hoping to ensure that the talent remains here, if they so wish to represent the country.
Surely, with our participation in the Pro14, SA Rugby’s position must now be relooked and moreover dropped, specifically for those South African players within the nine Pro14 league teams that employ them.
There is a wealth of experience there, untapped and unique, that could only enrich the national setup, if we decide to invite them in.
Now, this is not to say that any one of the South Africans playing for the European Pro14 teams are good enough to represent the Springboks in its current setup, or indeed much more attractive than the talent that is being produced and which plays in this country, but it would seem foolish not to be able to consider them, especially if this competition is to play a major part in our rugby future.
If we accept that the migration of players overseas is unavoidable, then we must contemplate using those resources that are within reach, even if it is in a limited way and restricted to a small corner of the world. With it we can build, train and reach higher levels.
If we are going to take our participation in the Pro14 seriously and engineer a future there, then we must surely use its resources, whether they be monetary or player power, to our advantage. It is time to be smart about the game and its professionalism. It’s time to employ some RugbyCraft.