Players Pounded out of SA
South African rugby players are regarded as royal game and being hunted by overseas clubs for massive sums.
SA Rugby is fighting a losing battle against the strength of the euro and the pound. Even though they have secured more than 20 top Springboks with SA Rugby Union contracts, it will not stem the flow.
It is widely speculated that even the top 20 Boks have already received massive offers and want to leave the country.
Rugby agents add that their clients are queuing up to exploit the exchange rate and a massive exodus of players is coming this year if the rand does not improve.
In the past two weeks, two more young Springbok stars committed themselves to European clubs, with Marcel Coetzee swapping Durban for Ulster (Ireland) and Marcel van der Merwe moving to Toulon (France) after Super Rugby. They were offered huge sums to play in Europe.
According to informed sources, Coetzee’s contract is nearly R11 million per year, while Van der Merwe’s – if accommodation and airline tickets are included – comes to R9 million per year. The 20-plus top Springboks are paid about R5 million per year between their provincial and Springbok contracts.
Bok iron man Duane Vermeulen’s contract with Toulon is worth about R12.75 million per year, and Francois Louw gets R8.8 million from Bath.
Dan Carter remains the highestpaid player in Europe, with his contract worth more than R20 million per season.
It is becoming clearer that the current exchange rate will have a great impact on South African rugby. On the one hand, it means SA Rugby will earn more income under its Sanzaar contract (it is paid in dollars), but with increasing costs and the fact that the pot of money is shared by 14 rugby unions, it is impossible to keep all its players in the country.
According to SA Rugby’s annual calendar, which appeared on the shelves this week, there are now 285 South African professional rugby players plying their trade abroad. While the list also includes the Springboks playing in Japan, it does not include players who have played overseas in the past three months. Currently, there are 180 contracted players who will play for the six local Super Rugby unions this year.
There are fears that the exodus will be seen in this year’s Super tournament, with all six teams struggling with squad depth and Saru’s transformation policies also not helping to keep young players in the country. Bulls coach Nollis Marais admitted last week “the middle” group of players is gone – these are players between 24 and 27 – with many Super teams made up of a group of senior players with a majority of newcomers.
The Stormers’ new coach, Robbie Fleck, said at the announcement of the Super tournament in Johannesburg that teams’ depth would be tested. “We have quality players, but we also have a lot of young players. Our average age at the Stormers is 22, and our senior players are young, even though they have had test experience.
“Depth is everything in a tournament like this and South African teams will struggle because there are so many players who are now playing overseas. There are many new faces this year, and that includes the management.”
SA Rugby’s policy on overseas players is being questioned in inner circles, especially after Bok Francois Hougaard was allowed to chase money by playing at Worcester for eight weeks rather than for the Bulls in the Super Rugby.
Hougaard’s contract is held by SA Rugby and they had to give permission for the move. Questions were raised this week about the precedent it held for future moves.
A lot of Springboks were also given permission to earn millions in Japan in the off season, but there is widespread dissatisfaction among the provinces about this, especially after Damian de Allende and Handré Pollard were injured while abroad.
Another issue SA Rugby is fighting is the influence of rugby agents on players’ decisions. In Hougaard’s case, his agent would have received nothing if he had signed for match fees with the Bulls, but he was in line for an estimated R200 000 commission if Hougaard signed in England.
That agents “persuade” clients to chase big money overseas – so that they can get good commissions – is a sensitive issue in both SA Rugby and provincial circles.