Cape Town - Professional rugby players do enough overseas travel for the novelty of touring to have worn off, but the forthcoming trip to France couldn’t have come soon enough for Western Province coach John Dobson and his squad.
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There has been a pall of gloom and negativity, not to mention controversy, hanging over Cape rugby since the latter stages of Super Rugby, and the WP squad will leave on their tour to the background of understandable uncertainty and discontent following a weekend newspaper story that included an alleged list of players that Western Province are looking to off-load.
The WP squad was locked in a meeting over the issue when journalists arrived at the High Performance Centre in Bellville for a brief interview opportunity with Dobson and the coach afterwards made no attempt to hide how hard the players, who were apparently unaware of the list, were hit by the alleged revelations.
“We did have a chat about it and I think going to Montpellier (for a two match tour) is going to be a good panacea for us,” Dobson told SuperSport.com on Monday.
“Obviously what came out in the press is a concern and it is not nice for the players to see that. It isn’t really accurate or fair, and it will be good to get away and be in the team environment. The tour has come at a perfect time for us.”
Indeed it has, and the players must be feeling that the further they can get from Cape Town at this point so much the better following six weeks where local rugby focused media has published a sequence of events that reads like a soap opera, starting off with the ructions caused by assistant coach Paul Treu’s walk-out of a meeting, followed up with denials that the Newlands stadium has been sold, and now proceeding to the denials that the “up for sale” list is completely accurate.
WP Rugby released an emphatic denial by statement late on Monday, with WP Rugby Group CEO Paul Zacks labelling the reports as misleading.
“It is regrettable that the public has been presented with a factually incorrect and grossly misleading view of our confidential internal dealings with our senior player group,” said Zacks.
“We back our contracted players wholeheartedly and all of those players who have contracts with WP Rugby for 2018 and beyond will all be honoured. However, we want to at all times ensure that we are looking after our players' best interests, which for some of them, especially those coming off long term injuries, means that they may benefit from a loan spell with another franchise in order to get much needed game-time and or exposure to different international competitions.
“Our goal is to ensure a win-win for all parties, facilitating more game-time for more players while simultaneously benefitting SA Rugby as a whole. Any decisions we make about player movements will always consider both the interests of the individual player as well as the Union with players remaining contracted to WP Rugby.”
If you read what Zacks has to say it becomes apparent that the existence of the published list is not being denied. Instead what is being argued is that the list is does not amount to the “players for export” entry into the rugby administration’s file that it is purported to be.
“Look, it is Gert Smal (director of rugby) and Paul who do the contracting, but I don’t think it is a clear case of us wanting to off-load players in the way it is being painted,” explained Dobson.
“You ask if players are playing for their futures in the Currie Cup. I think that is the case in every union at the moment. All the South African unions are cash strapped. Our financial situation is not unique. But sometimes you get a situation like the one caused by the crazy format to the Currie Cup, where you sit with a 44-man squad for a competition that has now been reduced to a single round and six matches.
“If you have several scrumhalves and some of them could do with some good experience that will develop them, and you have a PRO14 franchise just up the road, then it makes sense to release those players to gain valuable international experience.
“Those players can go and play five or six PRO14 games and then still be available to come back and play for the Stormers as better players in Super Rugby next year. It is not a case of offloading all of them or releasing them from their contracts, but of them going on loan.
“We did that last year with Craig Barry, who went on loan to the Cheetahs, and he did so well for them that I was joking with the guys this morning that there are people in Bloemfontein who probably named their children after him.”
Dobson has named a strong squad for the two-match tour, which will start with the departure from Cape Town on Tuesday and will feature matches against Montpellier, who are likely to include their Springbok contingent of Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis plus Jan Serfontein, and Narbonne.
“It is good that we are playing two games as it gives us a chance to do a proper tour and thus have some down time between games where we can work on team culture and building up a good spirit and sense of togetherness,” said Dobson.
“We need these games as the Stormers had a bye in the last round of Super Rugby and WP were knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the SuperSport Challenge so there hasn’t been much playing opportunity for the players over the past two months. These two games will be a perfect warm-up for the Currie Cup.”
Western Province squad:
Juarno Augustus, Craig Barry, Paul de Wet, Dan du Plessis, Johan du Toit, JJ Engelbrecht, Neethling Fouche, Herschel Jantjies, Dan Kriel, Michael Kumbirai, Dillyn Leyds, SP Marais, Chris Massyn, Scarra Ntubeni, Caylib Oosthuizen, Sergeal Petersen, Duncan Saal, Carlu Sadie, Ramone Samuels, JD Schickerling, Josh Stander, Chad Solomon, Kobus van Dyk, Ernst van Rhyn, Ali Vermaak, Jano Vermaak, Cobus Wiese