European clubs targeting Springboks to join their cash-flush clubs after next year’s Rugby World Cup will this time have more of a fight on their hands than before, after the South African Rugby Union’s Springbok contracts are likely to be enforced with more vigour.
According to the supersport.com website, in recent days we’ve seen growing reports of Boks that may be heading overseas after the Rugby World Cup. This week it was Duane Vermeulen’s link with a French club and Bath – the latter willing to offer around R7.8 million a year for the IRB Player of the year nominee’s services.
Previously both Flip van der Merwe and Eben Etzebeth have been linked with moves overseas to French clubs while sources in France tell of Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Willie le Roux and even Jan Serfontein being privately courted with offers to go overseas.
However, here is the catch. Those with Springbok contracts cannot enter into any negotiations with any club before July 1, 2015, leaving them a matter of two months to sort out their post-World Cup careers before the showpiece event takes place.
November tours are rife with agents “popping in” to Bok hotels, and it is understood from private conversations that a number of Boks who are eyeing a move to Europe want their post-World Cup options sorted out long before the tournament so that they can ideally concentrate on the Springbok campaign.
With the Bok form over the past few years under Heyneke Meyer, coupled with the falling Rand, it has made top South African players lucrative for particularly the French clubs, but with a normal outflow of talent after a World Cup expected, there is likely to be a renewed hunt for top Boks in the coming months.
SARU currently have 20 top players under contract – the one notable exception being Handre Pollard who is contracted at the Bulls until 2017 – and right now it is known that at least one player has asked permission to negotiate with French clubs to secure his future.
But for the others, if they are negotiating with clubs during this time, it is in breach of their contract and they could see a heavy handed reply from SARU, especially as the national body has to ensure that the top talent stays in South Africa as much as possible.
The role of agents in actively marketing their players at this stage, and out of the prescribed window, also leaves much to be desired, although it must also be said that it would be foolish to believe any player would not at least listen to the big money offers that are being thrown around at the moment.
It is likely that SARU will take a softer approach on those players nearing the end of their careers – the Du Plessis brothers, Vermeulen and Van der Merwe for instance – but you could see a massive fight going forward to protect the up and coming talent, especially those such as Etzebeth and Serfontein from heading overseas.
SARU may not have the financial muscle to convince every player to stay in South Africa, but the new approach to Springbok contracts, coupled with a more focused mindset will see a renewed approach to keeping a number of young players on these shores, especially as pressure mounts and salaries rise.
As it stands now, if players on Bok contracts do not ask for permission, SARU can reserve the right to give them a clearance certificate to join their new clubs, or force them to see out their contracts until December 31, 2015, which would mean they would miss out on half the European season, something the foreign clubs would not be happy about.