DURBAN – With the globalisation of rugby, a new issue has emerged as clubs and countries are pitted against each other whenever Tests fall outside the designated window.
The Rugby Championship is such an instance, and with the Springboks enjoying the services of a few players who do not ply their trade in South Africa, coach Rassie Erasmus has another hurdle to manage.
Already, the club over country debate has played its part on the Springboks with Duane Vermeulen missing out on this edition of the Rugby Championship in order to play in Japan despite being a key player in the June Tests.
However, although there is no doubting he is a big miss, coach Erasmus is not too fazed as he knows that Vermeulen does not need more time in the Bok jersey to get better, and it also frees up a spot for another player - such as Warren Whiteley - to boost his own profile.
However, the coach has been deliberate in bringing in a number of key overseas-based Boks, namely Willie le Roux from Wasps, Faf de Klerk for Sale and Francois Louw from Bath, all in England.
The English Premiership is about to kick off and with De Klerk and Le Roux both being nominated for outstanding performances for their clubs last season, and Louw being a club captain at Bath, it is unsurprising that these privately owned clubs wouldn’t want their assets available.
However, World Rugby has put in place Regulation Nine - the availability of players. It essentially states that a national Union can call up any player for international matches, but also stipulates it should be done in a good spirit with the clubs.
There was talk before the Rugby Championship that some of the English clubs were not keen to let their prized assets go for the Rugby Championship, but it appears that Erasmus has brokered a pretty good deal.
The coach has indicated that he is going to manage the game time of some of these overseas-based players, and that he may well even release them back to their clubs after the Australasian leg, he explained in Durban before the first Test.
Erasmus was at pains to state that he is not obliged to release these players, and should there be injuries or a need to salvage the Championship, he would keep them on. However, if best laid plans go accordingly, then Erasmus will have a chance to blood a few who need the time in key positions, such as Embrose Papier, Marco van Staden and Damian Willemse.
Erasmus has had to walk a tight line, and probably learned a few things from his dealings with Montpellier and the mysterious injuries that plagued Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn after they were called up in June. French clubs are notoriously difficult when it comes to releasing players for international duty, and perhaps this was the demise of any Bok revival for those players.
However, the word from these English clubs is that Erasmus has managed to make all parties involved happy.
“Rassie has been good to deal with and every player wants to play Test rugby if they have that opportunity and if there was a different regime in charge of South Africa then I don’t know if Willie would have wanted to continue,” the Wasps director of rugby Dai Young was quoted saying in relation to Le Roux playing for the Boks.