Sharks player Akker van der Merwe (left) announced on Monday that he will leave SA to join Sale Sharks. Photo: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency. (ANA).
Sharks player Akker van der Merwe (left) announced on Monday that he will leave SA to join Sale Sharks. Photo: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency. (ANA).
IOL Sport rugby scribe Jacques van der Westhuizen
IOL Sport rugby scribe Jacques van der Westhuizen

JOHANNESBURG – SA Rugby are spreading the love.

From next season they will increase their “contracted player pool” to roughly 75 players from the current few who hold national contracts in an effort to keep this country’s best playing in South Africa.

These players won’t have national contracts but be paid additionally by their unions with money budgeted for by SA Rugby. Also, players will be ranked in their positions - including so-called next generation players - and be paid proportionally. The rankings will be adapted after every season, but mechanisms will be put in place for there to be in-season adjustments in exceptional circumstances.

This new-look contracting system announced by SA Rugby on Saturday intends to invest in multiple players who have the potential to play for the Springboks, rather than invest in a handful of senior men, who demand large salaries to be enticed to stay in the local system.

It is a positive move by this country’s rugby body because more players will feel they are being looked after and have something to aim for - playing Test rugby. So, instead of 10 players, for example, sharing a “national contract” amount of R10 million, 50 players can share the R10 million, plus some, according to their rank, based on several factors like experience and potential.

The finer details of the new system are still to be worked out and there are likely to be tweaks here and there, but it is a step that had to be taken. The only problem is, the Rand is still so devalued that overseas clubs may still lure players because their deals are likely to still be more lucrative, in most cases, than anything on offer locally.

Also, there is the chance those players who are not ranked - according to their position - and thus do not earn any top-up, could feel left out and head abroad sooner than would be the case now.

And while paying more players more money could keep them in South Africa for longer - that’s the intention anyway - there’s nothing stopping a rich overseas club offering certain players Euros or pounds and insisting the players retire from international rugby for the length of the contract. Such a move would rob the Boks of their best players.

This could now be enforced by some of Europe’s biggest clubs after SA Rugby also said at the weekend they would from next year enforce World Rugby’s Regulation 9 which prescribes when and how international players must be released by clubs for international duty.

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SA Rugby have also scrapped the 30-cap rule to be eligible to qualify for the Boks, which means any player plying his trade abroad will in future come into contention for the national team. These players will also be included in the ranking system, but obviously not get any top-up payments, freeing up more money to pay for those players who are playing their rugby in South Africa.

The general idea is that the best 23 players will run out for the Boks in each Test; those who stay in South Africa will know they’re being financially looked after, while those who’re based overseas simply have to be available for the Boks when they are called up.

While the changes to the contracting system announced by SA Rugby are to be commended, big money still talks the loudest so it’ll be interesting to see if the new model has any real, significant effect on the player drain.


The Star

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