Cape Town - Eben Etzebeth’s return to domestic rugby next season was announced with much glee by the Sharks last week, and understandably so.
The big No 4 is a born-and-bred Capetonian who made his name for Western Province and the Stormers, so for the Durbanites to secure his signature is a great coup for them.
But is it the right move for someone like Etzebeth, and by extension, the Springboks?
There have also been media reports that two more top Boks, lock Lood de Jager and flank Pieter-Steph du Toit, may be heading back to Mzansi in the near future, with the Stormers the possible beneficiaries in both cases.
I am not so sure about leading internationals coming back to SA rugby in the prime stages of their careers.
Sure, some may do it for personal reasons – Du Toit often posts about his family wine estate on his Instagram page, so naturally, he would prefer to be at home in the Western Cape.
Etzebeth’s situation is also unique. The 30-year-old enforcer was insulted by Toulon president Bernard Lemaitre recently, who said that the Bok secondrower was a “handicap” to the team as he was “expensive, is regularly injured and is often away on Test duty”.
While the second part of that statement may have some truth to it, that is the nature of signing top Test players – they will be in action for their countries and they will cost a lot of money. It was unfortunate that Lemaitre mentioned injuries, as that is part of most rugby players’ lot in their careers.
So, you can understand why Etzebeth would have wanted to leave Toulon, but perhaps a move to another foreign club may have benefited his game more than joining the Sharks.
There is no doubt that playing for overseas clubs improves a player’s development, as they are exposed to players and coaches from all over the world, who bring their special skills and different mindsets to the table.
Two prime examples in recent years have been Cheslin Kolbe at Toulouse and Faf de Klerk at Sale Sharks.
Kolbe had become disillusioned with rugby in Cape Town, and was being ignored by then-Bok coach Allister Coetzee as well.
He became a sensation at Toulouse, and was quickly brought into the Bok mix by Rassie Erasmus in 2018 – and the rest is history.
De Klerk had featured for the Boks under Coetzee in 2016, but following a disastrous year, he opted to join Sale in England in 2017, which meant that he wasn’t eligible for SA due to the 30cap rule for overseas-based players.
The time at Sale took his game to another level, and he was an integral part of the 2019 World Cup-winning effort.
“The main thing for me at Sale was that the role I was given needed me to make a difference to the team,” De Klerk told The Guardian in 2019.
“When I joined Sale, I thought that if I did well there I would have a chance of making the World Cup squad.
“What I did not expect was how quickly I got back into the frame.
I guess moving to England was a blessing in disguise.”
So, while many critics may feel that the best SA players move overseas just for the money, the actual rugby side of it is even more valuable…