Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The departure shortly from the Stormers of superstar No 8 Duane Vermeulen on a three-year deal to Toulon arguably confirms for the first time a grim reality: an overseas-based group of players would now make up the bulk of a full-strength Springbok team.
Vermeulen is the cherry on top, in many ways, of a fresh wave of once staunchly SA-based players quitting the domestic landscape either following this season’s Super Rugby competition – only the Stormers retain an interest in it -- or later in the year after the Currie Cup and RWC 2015 have run their courses.
He is one of the most precious elements of the current Bok mix, and if you consider him foreign-based henceforth – along with several other seasoned internationals on their bikes imminently – then it is quite feasible to argue that the cream of coach Heyneke Meyer’s intended first-choice Test XV will suddenly be drawn from foreign climes.
Before, it was just a sprinkling, with men like France-based Bryan Habana, English-stationed Francois Louw and JP Pietersen from Japan bolstering a Bok side still made up very strongly of “home” elements.
But that trend is set for a pretty violent change.
Apart from the essential Vermeulen, two of Meyer’s traditional front-row stalwarts from the Sharks, brothers Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis, are packing their bags for France soon (almost certainly Montpellier).
In addition, the loosehead prop many believe has done enough in Super Rugby this year to push Tendai Mtawarira out of the No 1 jersey, Steven Kitshoff, soon leaves for Bordeaux, and seasoned lock Flip van der Merwe – who offers Bok squad depth in both second-row berths – is off to Clermont.
It is true that some still-frontline Boks who ply their trade in Japan, “double” as Super Rugby players for SA sides, but at the same time it has to be admitted that their main bread and butter now comes from the stronger Asian currency.
That is why there are no guarantees that men like Schalk Burger, Pietersen and Frans Steyn (in dispute with SARU as far as Test rugby is concerned) return in time for the start of the slightly overlapping SANZAR competition, and can take time to readjust to the superior pace and physical demands of the southern hemisphere competition when they do.
So they are certainly best regarded as overseas-based.
Here, then, are suggestions for two separate Bok sides, one made up entirely of “expats” (and soon-to-be-expats) and the other comprising only SA-based personnel ... they are largely made up of players Meyer has either been partial to previously or who are known to be on his 2015 radar.
The scary aspect is that if you assume such players as Pietersen, Habana, Fourie du Preez, Vermeulen, Burger, Louw, Kitshoff and the Du Plessis duo may still be considered part of Meyer’s “first team” as things stand, then nine of his team will shortly have to be branded foreign-based.
In short, that would also only underline that the very cream of South African talent will no longer be strutting their stuff in front of home audiences.
The exodus is not far off crisis proportions, and you increasingly wonder how on earth the country will properly fill six franchises in next year’s expanded Super Rugby.
Decide for yourself which of these outfits might be the stronger if they hypothetically met later this year:
Home Boks: 15 Willie le Roux (Cheetahs; Sharks soon), 14 Cornal Hendricks (Cheetahs), 13 Jean de Villiers (Stormers), 12 Damian de Allende (Stormers), 11 Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), 10 Handre Pollard (Bulls), 9 Cobus Reinach (Sharks), 8 Warren Whiteley (Lions), 7 Oupa Mohoje (Cheetahs), 6 Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), 5 Victor Matfield (Bulls), 4 Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), 3 Frans Malherbe (Stormers), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Bulls), 1 Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks).
Overseas Boks (including those going soon): 15 Zane Kirchner (Leinster), 14 JP Pietersen (Panasonic Wild Knights), 13 Jaque Fourie (Kobelco Steelers), 12 Frans Steyn (Toshiba Brave Lupus), 11 Bryan Habana (Toulon), 10 Morne Steyn (Stade Francais), 9 Fourie du Preez (Suntory Goliath), 8 Duane Vermeulen (Toulon), 7 Schalk Burger (Suntory Goliath), 6 Francois Louw (Bath), 5 Andries Bekker (Kobelco Steelers) 4 Flip van der Merwe (Clermont), 3 Jannie du Plessis (Montpellier), 2 Bismarck du Plessis (Montpellier), 1 Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux).
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