As South African rugby braces for a potentially crippling "Black Friday" sale-type contractual player walk-out, the financial instability caused by the Covid-19 crisis globally might just have mitigated the loss of South Africa’s top players to overseas clubs.
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Players have until midnight on Thursday, 14 May to opt out of their current contracts and take up overseas offers, which unions cannot match or better, or face up to 43% pay reductions. Rugby mother body SA Rugby finalised its Industry Mitigation Strategy on 29 April, which took effect as of 1 May.
The plan contains details of how rugby plans to cushion the potential R700 million to R1 billion loss in turnover caused by the abrupt halt of all sport following the coronavirus outbreak.
In the detailed Industry Mitigation Plan, seen by Sport24, SA Rugby said it expected competition costs-related savings to range from 30% to 50%, which translated to between R300 million and R500 million.
Playing and non-playing salary cuts could account for up to 25% saving, estimated to be at R68 million and R137 million, while general operational savings were set at R197 million to R307 million.
The document revealed that 45 players earned more than R2 million per annum (both Springbok and non-Springbok players), while a further 20 non-playing staff members at unions, franchises and SA Rugby were in the same income bracket.
Anyone earning less than R240 000 a year would not be subjected to any pay cuts, according to the plan, which amounted to 293 players across the board. The 22 players earning between R1.5 million and R2 million could also face the maximum 43% pay reduction, with the rest of the income brackets facing between 36% and 39% pay reductions.
South Africa’s saving grace is that the calculations are estimated at a worst-case basis, should there be no more rugby in 2020. The pay cuts are effective so long as the sport is barred from resuming and expire in December.
The Sharks, as things stand, are set to retain their big guns Lukhanyo Am, Curwin Bosch, Makazole Mapimpi and Thomas du Toit. The quartet were the most sought-after players in Durban from French and Japanese clubs but head coach Sean Everitt convinced them to stay and build a potential dynasty.
"At this stage we are not certain [of holding onto players] because there is still time until tomorrow but we do have good relationships with our players and we have quite a settled group," said Sharks high performance manager Michael Horak.
"The players are excited about what’s happening at the Sharks and how we’ve been doing on the field of play. We are all hoping we’ll have pretty much the same group after tomorrow night.
"The Sharks is a family and every member of the family has to pull their weight and to contribute to it. Sean and the coaching staff can’t be more highly praised because of the work that they’ve done and the relationships they’ve forged with the players."
Backrower Luke Stringer, however, has joined French second division side Union Sportive Montauban, who also have Jacques Engelbrecht, the former WP, Bulls and Southern Kings No 8, on their books.
"It’s always sad to see somebody move on but it’s a great opportunity for Luke and I think in his time at the Sharks it was difficult for him to get consistent game time," said Horak.
"It’s good for his personal and professional growth. Luke goes with our full blessings because he was a great servant for us. We are happy he found a place where he can sink his teeth in and progress his career."
The Bulls, on the other hand, could face a massive clearance sale. It’s already been confirmed that midfielder Johnny Kotze would leave Loftus, while a few senior players have said to have asked their agents to fish around for offers.
Jeandre Rudolph, who was on loan to the Bulls from the Pumas during Super Rugby, joined the Cheetahs permanently this week. Loose forward Victor Sekekete, who is contracted with the Southern Kings, could join the Bulls as director of rugby Jake White looks to beef up the second and back row.
Western Province and the Stormers could hang onto their most prized possessions, most notably World Cup-winning Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and World Rugby player-of-the-year Pieter-Steph du Toit, who have expressed no desire to leave South Africa.
They will, however, be without Dillyn Leyds, who is headed to La Rochelle in France, as well as prop Wilco Louw, who is taking his talents to English club Harlequins.
The Kings have faced financial turmoil above the Covid-19 related uncertainty and could stand to lose centre Howard Mnisi to the Cheetahs. Mnisi’s former team, the Lions, have kept their cards close to their chests regarding the player movement but everything could change before the clock strikes midnight on Thursday night.