"Well, at least they have the same sponsor!” came the reply on Twitter after I cheekily suggested that next year’s Super Rugby tournament may look a lot more like the Vodacom Cup given the deluge of top players set to leave our shores after this year’s World Cup.
Throw in the fact that our player resources will also then have to be spread across 6, rather than the existing 5, franchises, and I might actually have been a bit generous. Perhaps a comparison with the Varsity or Community Cups is more realistic?
Well, SANZAR wanted different, and they are certainly going to get that! I am picturing Kings vs Singapore at a 1/3rd filled NMMU stadium different...
But I digress... Back to that deluge of players departing our shores, which now includes Michael Rhodes who is going to Saracens, and is likely to include Willem Alberts, who is said to be in talks with a club in France.
Much talk this week about SARU implementing plans to try and keep players in South Africa, but when a 21-year-old prop is being offered £925 000.00 (Yep, that is R18 million) per season to play overseas, are we not just farting against thunder?
Taking on the All Blacks is tough enough, but taking on the bastion of a free economy - simple demand and supply - borders on suicidal. Think Financial Rand, and think Frans Steyn.
Last year SARU chose to break the piggy bank in the hope of keeping Steyn in South Africa. They structured a unique (and complex) deal that saw him being the only player in the country receiving extra payment for his image rights. And we all saw how that ended, which was not particularly well.
Not only was it piggy bank breaking in an attempt to cripple a free economy, but it also saw SARU singling out one player for special treatment. A cardinal sin in a team sport.
That the Boks did not really miss him, with his absence instead allowing for a potential gem in Damian de Allende to be unearthed, is a topic for another column, but it does bring me to the point I want to make today...
Let’s focus less on the players departing (given that we only have the Rand to play with, and it is not something we can control), and more on the players on our amazing talent conveyor belt that now get their chance to shine.
Given what I have heard about it thus far, I like the proposed SARU strategy to keep players. They plan to contract around 40 ‘principally young’ players to form an elite group who will be obliged to inform SARU before 30 April each year if they intend to move abroad. The suggested 90-day moratorium period – during which time the player is forbidden to negotiate with any overseas club - then kicks in, giving SARU time to prepare their best financial offer. They also plan to claim a development fee from the French clubs contracting our players that are under the age of 23 through not releasing these players from their current contracts until they are paid the fee.
Let’s just hope they have learnt from the Steyn debacle though, and that “Best financial offer” does not leave poor old piggy in pieces on the floor.
Contracting ‘principally young’ players does require a little gambling though. Just ask the Bulls. And when it does not come off, it can get expensive. But without being able to contract every professional player in the country like they do in New Zealand, this seems a good option.
So in a nutshell, let’s wish those players who really want to leave well at the airport, but let’s treat those who would prefer to stay as best as we possibly can.
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.
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