OPINION: It could’ve been worse during SA Rugby's ‘transfer window’
In an effort to help save costs in SA rugby during the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of all sport across the globe, the industry opted, among other things like salary reductions across the board, to give players the chance to terminate their existing contracts with their unions for an opportunity to move to other teams.
So, after a 21-day period in which players could request a termination of their contracts, the “bloodbath” did not happen. The majority of the big-name players didn’t “opt out” and have decided to stay with their unions and franchises - for the time being. It is the reason why I said in the introduction that it could have been “worse”. The only significant “mover” is hooker Malcolm Marx, who has opted to leave the Lions.
The other big-name player who opted “out” was Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was undecided about which way to go until hours before the deadline last Thursday. In the end, it seems he wants to stay in the Cape, but have his contract renegotiated. How this will be allowed to happen after it was clearly stated in the joint agreement around the move that unions were not allowed to negotiate with players who had opted to terminate their contracts is not clear.
With national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus making it clear in recent times that any player who could add value to the Boks would be selected - no matter where they ply their trade - it is somewhat perplexing that so many big-name stars have not chosen to move abroad (where the pay packages are bigger).
Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am are two other players who apparently had a chance to move overseas, but decided to stay, while it is understood a number of other Sharks players also chose to remain in SA. If you consider some of the players who have had their deals terminated - like Shayn Reynolds (Lions), Ruan Vermaak (Lions), Tyrone Green (Lions), Tyler Paul (Sharks), Johnny Kotze (Bulls), Jean-Luc du Preez (Western Province), Cobus Wiese (Province) - then you realise the local franchises didn’t suffer badly at all in this little “escape window”. The bulk of the squads have stayed the same.
But, if SA Rugby and the unions were hoping to significantly reduce their big salary bills in this period, then the “transfer window” certainly didn’t bring the results some may have been after, or expected - that is why the final results could have been “better”.
The Bulls, in fact, with new boss Jake White a busy man during this lockdown, look stronger than before with several new signings, while the Sharks - who were setting the standard before Super Rugby was suspended - appear to be well set for when rugby starts up again.
The Lions - who have also lost backs coach Neil de Bruyn in this period of inactivity - look as vulnerable and impotent as ever (but that is not due to the “transfer window”), while the Stormers don’t look stronger or weaker than they were at the start of Super Rugby.
The Cheetahs may well be more lethal when things start up again, mainly because they have acquired Frans Steyn (and earlier Ruan Pienaar) and two seriously talented youngsters who’ve returned to France, while the Kings look to be in as precarious a position as ever.