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    WP CEO Wagner hits back

    2012-07-04 22:13

    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 province.

    “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 Bekker.

    “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 both ways.”

     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?”

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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