Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - With Springbok fullback Zane Kirchner becoming the latest to leave
for greener pastures overseas, there is a concern that the Vodacom Bulls
may be facing a mass exodus just when they are getting ahead in their
According to the supersport.com website, the Bulls, by their own admission, had a tough time last year when they
lost several big-name Springboks after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and
committed themselves to an open rebuilding process.
By signing up some of the best young talent in the country, they made it
through to the playoffs in 2012, and are currently leading the South
African conference in Vodacom Super Rugby this year.
But a string of moves announced in recent weeks may threaten that, as a
senior core of players is already leaving, lured by the increased money
available abroad, while junior stars look for more remuneration as well.
Kirchner’s announcement caught the Bulls off-side, and in their press
release announcing his move, they admit they were under the impression
during negotiations the fullback would stay on. It is a similar thread
to what happened with Juandre Kruger’s move to France, where the lock
allegedly gave them the impression he would re-sign with the Super Rugby
franchise, then dropped the bombshell on them by signing abroad.
Other than Kirchner and Kruger, the Bulls have also lost Morne Steyn,
who will also head to France while veteran centre Wynand Olivier, who by
his own admission hasn’t signed anything yet, is also set to move
abroad to finish off his career.
But while some of these moves have been expected, and it is general
knowledge the Bulls cannot compete with the Euro or Yen in paying
players, a bigger worry is the amount of other players whose contracts
come to an end this year who haven’t recommitted to the Bulls after – in
their words – “less than expected” offers.
Springbok Jano Vermaak is one, who has initially rejected the Bulls'
offer to renew his contract, and is currently negotiating with Stade
Francais after the Bulls offered him “close to half” his current salary
to sign again with the team.
Rising star Francois Venter is another one who initially rejected his
renewal offer, as it meant a pay cut, while similar stories abound
around players such as Dewald Potgieter and Willie Wepener, who also
have been asked to take salary cuts.
With one Bulls board member confirming there has not been a cut in the
player budget, the question arises why so many players are being offered
contracts lower than they are currently earning?
The answer lies in the massive amount of juniors the Bulls have signed
and the fact that most players have yearly increases built into their
contracts. There have been extra fees in securing the services of
players like Jan Serfontein and Arno Botha for a longer term and with
the budget only so big, paying some players more mean others need to be
It is a problem of the Bulls' own doing though, as their policy of
signing the country’s best juniors was always going to cause a logjam at
some point, and while player salaries grow, the income stream –
sponsorships, season tickets and suites – have all stayed relatively
constant over the past few years.
The problem is not only unique to the Bulls, but the danger signs are
there at the moment, with the negotiating unhappiness already an open
secret among the players.
And if the Bulls don’t manage the problem well, it may be that more
players – not just the big names that have already left – up and leave
because they are unwilling to accept salary cuts.
In the midst of this all is the new High Performance manager Xander
Janse van Rensburg, who took over from Ian Schwartz when the latter
became the Springbok manager. While Janse van Rensburg is still finding
his feet in the position, the playing field has certainly changed and
some tough decisions have had to be made.
As he told supersport.com, the Bulls have to move within a budget, and can only do so much with the available money.
“The Vodacom Bulls head coach, Frans Ludeke, and I meet regularly to
review the squad requirements. We have identified a core group of
players going forward from which a team will be built around that can
compete and win trophies,” he told supersport.com.
“At the same time, we have to bring young talent through alongside the
senior players. At the moment, the exchange rate between the Rand and
Euro makes it impossible to compete with clubs in Europe and the money
they are offering players to continue their careers abroad. It is a
difficult situation for most professional teams in South Africa and we
will always do our best to keep our top players, but sometimes the money
offered to them is too great to match.
“Through thorough planning, and carefully identifying our needs going
ahead and, of course, staying within our budget, we will always strive
to keep the best combination of talent at the Bulls to ensure the team’s
success going forward.”
The warning signs are there, and they haven’t been helped by the hunger
from abroad to sign South African players. Either way, time will tell if
the Bulls, having survived a natural exodus of senior players at the
end of 2011, will face another one this year.