How President Cyril Ramaphosa can save South African rugby
It is almost a decade since a South African team last won Super Rugby – the Bulls in 2010.
And sadly, the drought will not end until SA find a way to stem the ceaseless flow of world-class talent to Europe and Japan.
There are a lot of folk in SA backing President Cyril Ramaphosa to produce a miracle economic turnaround, and rugby bosses will be among that number because the biggest challenge facing franchise chief executives in SA is holding on to players who have had lucrative offers from abroad.
The fact is they can’t.
They can’t even get young players to sign any more than a two-year deal, because nobody wants to get locked into a long-term SA contract. The days of three or four-year contracts are long gone.
The frustration at not being able to keep a team together after two or three years of rebuilding is probably one of the reasons why Gary Teichmann is leaving the Sharks when his three years are up in September.
Teichmann wanted to make a difference at the Sharks, and he has in terms of getting the current team into reasonable shape, only to be powerless to stop the spine of the team being ripped out by European clubs.
So next year, the rebuilding cycle starts again for the likes of a Sharks team that are set to be losing close to 50% of their players…
Unfortunately, it looks like all of the SA franchises are going to be rebuilding for eternity or until the miracle of a strong rand tempers the pulling power of the pound, euro and yen.
None of this is new of course. SA teams have been bleeding talent since the game turned professional in 1996, and if anything, the problem gets worse with every passing year and negative rand fluctuation.
It is the prime reason why the SA Super Rugby challenge is weak. The ‘ou manne’ that should be providing the core of experience in our teams are all overseas doing exactly that job at their new clubs.
At Saracens, for example, it is a case of spot the Englishmen among all of the South Africans.
And now the Sale Sharks are following Saracens’ suit, as is Gloucester, where former Lions coach Johan Ackermann has surrounded himself with his former players.
Sale Sharks, who yesterday announced the signing of Sharks prop Coenie Oosthuizen, have also secured the services of all three Du Preez brothers, Akker van der Merwe and Lood de Jager, while they already have Faf de Klerk and Jono Ross.
Working Link ▶️https://t.co/CFcELbgVqg— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) May 14, 2019
Imagine if all those Lions players, for example, were still at Ellis Park – the Lions would be seriously challenging the Crusaders for the title.
Instead, they are struggling in the SA conference and are a pale imitation of the contenders they were before the exodus.
The siphoning off of SA talent to Europe is continuous, but it becomes a torrent at the end of a World Cup cycle.
Right now, behind the scenes, there is a flurry of activity between players, agents and overseas clubs.
Announcements such as yesterday’s involving Oosthuizen and Handre Pollard (Montpellier) are going to come thick and fast.
Kriel and De Jager to leave Vodacom Bulls— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) May 15, 2019
The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd confirmed the departure of Springboks Lood de Jager and Jesse Kriel at the end of the current season and wished them well in their future endeavours.https://t.co/BiGqvGC8Em pic.twitter.com/8fyegV0GIV
It sadly means we are in for a particularly lean Super Rugby challenge next year.
The next few years will see rebuilding, and then the next group of players to have made their mark will hit the road...
If Mr Ramaphosa can indeed turn the SA economy around, he might just also save our rugby.