'French' Boks to the future?
Bryan Habana (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - South Africans may have caught a glimpse of their potential rugby future this week when five players from French clubs trickled into their Brisbane hotel to join the rest of the squad ahead of Saturday's Test against Australia.
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The selection of Springboks from outside the country's domestic competition is an increasingly emotive issue following a growing exodus of top players to club rugby in Europe.
Some have warned it is a dangerous path and players who sign overseas should forfeit their international careers.
Others suggest it is an economic inevitability that top footballers leave for better wages elsewhere and that the national team will have to adapt to their occasional absences.
The physical toll of traveling halfway across the world will be keenly monitored on Saturday when the Springboks play the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship in Brisbane.
Bryan Habana, Juandré Kruger, Güthro Steenkamp, Morné Steyn and Jano Vermaak competed in the French competition at the weekend before setting off on a 24-hour journey to Australia to join the rest of the South African squad, who had set out from Johannesburg a day earlier.
All five were in action for the Springboks in a 22-17 win over Argentina in Mendoza on August 24.
But instead of heading home with the rest of the team for a week's break before the next away match, they had to fly from Argentina to France to fulfil club commitments.
Four made their Top 14 debuts last weekend.
Lock Kruger completed a full match for Racing Metro, scrumhalf Vermaak played 76 minutes for Toulouse, Steyn had 20 minutes for Stade Francais on Friday night and Habana 10 minutes on the wing for Toulon on Saturday.
Prop Steenkamp started a third season in France, playing 68 minutes for Toulouse.
"All of these flights are a bit hard but it is part of my job now," flyhalf Steyn told the French sports daily L'Equipe last week.
South Africa have called up foreign-based players before but never had as many in their squad based overseas, a third of the 28-man party in Brisbane.
The large migration in recent months has seemingly caught the country unprepared.
SARU has suggested they will look to formulate a future policy but to date they have made only an open-ended statement.
"Players playing locally will always get first consideration, provided that the selectors have faith in their abilities," said SARU CEO Jurie Roux last month, leaving the door open for coach Heyneke Meyer to pick whoever he feels are best for the job.
But one of his predecessors Jake White, who won the World Cup in 2007, warned that South Africa were set to lose many more players to foreign clubs, diluting the domestic game which has been the bedrock of Springbok rugby.
"If players are still allowed to play for South Africa while they are earning money overseas, they would be crazy to stay in South Africa and play domestic rugby.
"They are sending out the wrong message to young players," he said in a radio interview.
"Australia and New Zealand don't (pick foreign-based players).
"We are the only team in the top three that does it."