Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – WP Rugby chief executive Rob Wagner has
spiritedly defended the franchise against allegations that it struggles to
retain its best talent in the face of interest from upcountry or abroad.
The long-serving CEO tends to stay mostly out of the public
and media spotlight, but on Wednesday made a rare appearance, immediately
following the regular Stormers team announcement briefing at Bellville, and
then again on Cape Talk 567 radio station to fight the union’s corner.
There has been fresh criticism of the Stormers/Western
Province over a perception that they “leak” young talent, just the latest being
the case of Baby Bok schoolboy flyhalf phenomenon Handre Pollard, who has
agreed terms with the Bulls.
In response to criticism that the province too readily
develop young players and then let them slip through the net, Wagner said:
“That is a perception, first of all. People rightfully do get upset when a
talented player leaves.
“But in answer to that (charge) ... let’s just take a group
of young players in our (Stormers) pack who have been identified by us and have
come from school to our Institute, them graduating to the Super Rugby scene.
“I’m talking the likes of Kitshoff, Malherbe, Elstadt,
Etzebeth, Kolisi, Carr, Roux ... if you take a group like that, I would hazard
a guess that they are the youngest group of players at Super Rugby level who
have come up through the Institute system.
“We have retained six of those on long-term contracts and
only lost one (lock Quinn Roux, to Irish club Leinster). Operating in a
professional rugby era, out-of-contract players have freedom of movement;
there’s global competition for the scarce resource of pro players.
“Financial reward, opportunity to play at first-team level
after it has perhaps not always been immediately possible where they’ve just
(come from) ... of those players mentioned and certain others, it is a
remarkable strike rate to keep such players who have already shown their worth
in probably the toughest competition in rugby union.”
Wagner conceded that Pollard was “an outstanding rugby player
who will go on to play at a very high level” and was a “big loss” to the
“It’s not through lack of trying: this goes right back to
August 2010 when we dealt with the particular player (to discuss a contract).
“Many people are unaware that in 2011 we’d already invited
him to Stormers practices to bring him into the structures, etcetera ... a lot
of work went on behind the scenes to keep Handre in this province. We did
everything in our power ... I can’t answer at this point in time precisely what
influenced his decision to move north.”
At the media briefing, Wagner had displayed a pile of
paperwork saying it was the sum of correspondence on the Pollard matter, much
of it involving his father and WP officials like former Springbok lock Hennie
“Western Province prides itself in its structures. I think
our Institute is highly successful, and not as many players as perceived have
actually moved on.
“People are probably thinking about people like Johann
Sadie, who is currently in the wilderness and not in the Bulls side, another
like (Conrad) Hoffman who is not in the Sharks squad environment.
“And consider also that we take players away from other
provinces -- they try damned hard to keep them too!
“I’m talking fine players like Peter Grant, who the Sharks
tried to keep, Joe Pietersen, who the Free State wanted to keep ... it goes
Wagner said it should
not be forgotten that in 2011 the Stormers were tested like never before at
flyhalf, where seven players were struck down by injury, yet they had managed
to win the inaugural SA conference and reach a semi-final.
“This season, if you consider the quality loose forwards we
have lost to injury – Burger, Vermeulen, Koster, Carr – we are still heading
the conference and still on track for the playoffs.
“So you’ve got to think there’s a good case for saying we’ve
identified our resources and depth correctly, isn’t there?”
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