Lions won't compromise Currie Cup for Japanese deals
Ockert de Villiers - Sport24
Johannesburg - A deep seated respect for the Currie Cup makes the Lions reluctant to make blanket exchange deals with Japanese clubs, according to Golden Lions Rugby Union manager Bart Schoeman.
Japan have come to be seen as a possible saviour in South Africa’s fight against the exodus of the country’s rugby talent.
Deals whereby Super Rugby franchises allow their players to supplement their salaries playing for Japanese clubs during the Currie Cup season, are becoming the norm.
Schoeman, however, said the Lions did not believe this to be a viable option for them as they still placed a high premium on the Currie Cup.
"At this stage the Currie Cup is still important to us, although Super Rugby gives you exposure at an international level," Schoeman said.
"The Currie Cup is still a classic, a competition steeped in tradition which we still value very much as well as do our commercial partners.
"If you just look how passionate our supporters were last year and how close we came (to winning), it shows that you can’t downgrade the Currie Cup."
Schoeman, however, did concede that star flyhalf Elton Jantjies’ stint with Japanese club NTT Shining Arcs did wonders for his confidence.
Jantjies returned for the Lions for their 2015 Super Rugby not only as a leaner version of his former self but also with a more mature attitude.
This has translated into superb performances on the field which saw him reclaim the number-10 jersey from Marnitz Boshoff.
Schoeman said that Jantjies' return from Japan was in stark contrast to the one which saw him play Super Rugby for the Stormers the previous year (2013) before returning to the Lions for Currie Cup duty that year.
"We allowed him to go and play in Japan and he embraced the opportunity conditioning himself really well.
"Even mentally he got himself to a better place and he came back with a bang, which is clear to see."
However, Schoeman was sceptical that Japan would offer South African franchises a real solution to the poaching of their top players by European clubs.
He said the fact that Japan will have a Super Rugby team in the expanded Super Rugby tournament from 2016 could pose a different challenge.
"Whether Japan could become an ally to South Africa I don’t really know," he said.
Schoeman also pointed out that because of Japan's pending Super Rugby status, it could mean that players currently playing in their system, would then make the natural graduation to their Super Rugby structures.
"The challenge will be that money talks at some point, but that (Japan's) market can only accommodate so many players before it gets saturated," he said.
"After this year’s World Cup you will have a massive exodus of senior players from all over the world that will follow the money."