JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s rugby leaders will finalise the number of players each Super Rugby franchise will in future be allowed to contract when they meet in Cape Town on Thursday.
It is expected that each of the eight franchises under the South African Rugby Union umbrella (the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers in Super Rugby and the Cheetahs, Kings, and two other teams) will opt to have on their books between 45 and 50 senior players, with the rest going out on a draft, to help strengthen the weaker teams.
This is according to Saru president Mark Alexander, who was speaking at the launch of the 2018/19 Guinness Pro14 competition on Wednesday.
He said two more franchises – most likely Griquas and the Pumas – would hopefully join the Cheetahs and Kings in the Pro14 competition from next season.
“And once we bring in the draft system, and limit the number of professional players on the books of all the franchises, these teams will benefit by being able to select players that would ordinarily not get game time,” said Alexander.
Salaries wouldn’t be capped, because those would depend on the individual franchises’ budgets. “We want to roll out this new contracting model and draft system as soon as we can, so we can help the Cheetahs and Kings in the Pro 14,” said Alexander.
South Africa currently has 990 professional players, who’re all on contract at some union, and this number was far too high for it to be sustainable in future, according to Alexander.
“In the new model all the best players will be playing all the time. You won’t have the third and fourth choice guys sitting in the store-room. Also, with the new model, some players will have normal jobs and work in the day, and earn a salary, and then play on weekends, and receive a game fee.
“What’s been happening is that a union has contracted six locks, for example, straight out of the Craven Week, but they don’t all play. You can’t have that,” said Alexander. “This new model is going to be the key for the success of Saru going forward, from a financial point of view, but also from a player point of view. There’s a false market out there of professional players ... we need to be responsible. Young players must be able to go and study, but still play their rugby.”
Turning to the start of the Pro14 this weekend, Alexander said the “long-term” investment in getting involved in the competition, even though at a great expense, would benefit South African rugby in future.
“It’s a long-term investment. We have options now and in future. At some point in time in future if we don’t want to stay in the south (in Super Rugby), we can move north,” he said. “Also, the Pro 14 is a good competition for the players and coaches who’re playing against tier one nations (players) each weekend, except for England.
“When we become a full Pro14 member next season we’ll be the only nation who plays in the north and the south, and the major benefit of playing in the northern hemisphere is the players are better off. With the structure of the Pro14 competition the way it is, it’s easier for travelling, with distances between places less than in the south, and the time zones are also better.
“When you consider player welfare and what’s best for them, then the north is better.”
The Pro14 kicks off this weekend with the Cheetahs taking on Munster, while the Kings are also away first-up, to Zebre.