Bulls face player exodus

    2013-04-23 14:02

    Brenden Nel - SuperSport

    Johannesburg - With Springbok fullback Zane Kirchner becoming the latest to leave for greener pastures overseas, there is a concern that the Vodacom Bulls may be facing a mass exodus just when they are getting ahead in their rebuilding process.

    According to the website, the Bulls, by their own admission, had a tough time last year when they lost several big-name Springboks after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and committed themselves to an open rebuilding process.

    By signing up some of the best young talent in the country, they made it through to the playoffs in 2012, and are currently leading the South African conference in Vodacom Super Rugby this year.

    But a string of moves announced in recent weeks may threaten that, as a senior core of players is already leaving, lured by the increased money available abroad, while junior stars look for more remuneration as well.

    Kirchner’s announcement caught the Bulls off-side, and in their press release announcing his move, they admit they were under the impression during negotiations the fullback would stay on. It is a similar thread to what happened with Juandre Kruger’s move to France, where the lock allegedly gave them the impression he would re-sign with the Super Rugby franchise, then dropped the bombshell on them by signing abroad.

    Other than Kirchner and Kruger, the Bulls have also lost Morne Steyn, who will also head to France while veteran centre Wynand Olivier, who by his own admission hasn’t signed anything yet, is also set to move abroad to finish off his career.

    But while some of these moves have been expected, and it is general knowledge the Bulls cannot compete with the Euro or Yen in paying players, a bigger worry is the amount of other players whose contracts come to an end this year who haven’t recommitted to the Bulls after – in their words – “less than expected” offers.

    Springbok Jano Vermaak is one, who has initially rejected the Bulls' offer to renew his contract, and is currently negotiating with Stade Francais after the Bulls offered him “close to half” his current salary to sign again with the team.

    Rising star Francois Venter is another one who initially rejected his renewal offer, as it meant a pay cut, while similar stories abound around players such as Dewald Potgieter and Willie Wepener, who also have been asked to take salary cuts.

    With one Bulls board member confirming there has not been a cut in the player budget, the question arises why so many players are being offered contracts lower than they are currently earning?

    The answer lies in the massive amount of juniors the Bulls have signed and the fact that most players have yearly increases built into their contracts. There have been extra fees in securing the services of players like Jan Serfontein and Arno Botha for a longer term and with the budget only so big, paying some players more mean others need to be cut.

    It is a problem of the Bulls' own doing though, as their policy of signing the country’s best juniors was always going to cause a logjam at some point, and while player salaries grow, the income stream – sponsorships, season tickets and suites – have all stayed relatively constant over the past few years.

    The problem is not only unique to the Bulls, but the danger signs are there at the moment, with the negotiating unhappiness already an open secret among the players.

    And if the Bulls don’t manage the problem well, it may be that more players – not just the big names that have already left – up and leave because they are unwilling to accept salary cuts.

    In the midst of this all is the new High Performance manager Xander Janse van Rensburg, who took over from Ian Schwartz when the latter became the Springbok manager. While Janse van Rensburg is still finding his feet in the position, the playing field has certainly changed and some tough decisions have had to be made.

    As he told, the Bulls have to move within a budget, and can only do so much with the available money.

    “The Vodacom Bulls head coach, Frans Ludeke, and I meet regularly to review the squad requirements. We have identified a core group of players going forward from which a team will be built around that can compete and win trophies,” he told

    “At the same time, we have to bring young talent through alongside the senior players. At the moment, the exchange rate between the Rand and Euro makes it impossible to compete with clubs in Europe and the money they are offering players to continue their careers abroad. It is a difficult situation for most professional teams in South Africa and we will always do our best to keep our top players, but sometimes the money offered to them is too great to match.

    “Through thorough planning, and carefully identifying our needs going ahead and, of course, staying within our budget, we will always strive to keep the best combination of talent at the Bulls to ensure the team’s success going forward.”

    The warning signs are there, and they haven’t been helped by the hunger from abroad to sign South African players. Either way, time will tell if the Bulls, having survived a natural exodus of senior players at the end of 2011, will face another one this year.

    Read More On:  bulls super 15 zane kirchner rugby

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