Boks playing overseas are on borrowed time
Africa’s key players, going forward, will start next year with the luxury of having had an off season, while one wants to come back home to stake his claim (apparently from the traditionally low-paying Cheetahs) on the vacant Bok fly half position.
But while this does not signal the overseas-based players coming home en masse, it does go a long way towards settling the debate about whether they should still be free to play in the Bok team or not.
Etzebeth’s, De Allende’s and Kriel’s decisions to skip opportunities to top up their coffers in favour of good old-fashioned rest proves that players leaving South Africa for better currencies in the UK, France and Japan is as much about money as it is not. It obviously is about money because they leave to make more. But judging by their picking and choosing when to do it, poverty was never the reason they left in the first place.
I’m not saying players, or indeed their agents in this case, shouldn’t be on the lookout for opportunities to make more money while their bodies can still take the pounding. But for a while now, this has been sold to us a little as if they’d be ruined if they didn’t go overseas.
Proof that Etzebeth and De Allende aren’t worried about such misadventure is that Western Province, their employer, have applied for liquidation. I don’t know how it works in rugby, but if my company was being liquidated I’d do moonlighting. It’s starting to look as if a significant part of why a top Springbok would leave South Africa is to earn comparatively with mates who play there.
My understanding is that, over the last year or so, SA Rugby’s attempts to keep players in the country – by paying part of their salaries – mean a top Bok earns upwards of R5 million a year.
As a middle-aged man living on the breadline, quibbling over whether you’re making R3 million to R5 million more is a First World problem in my life. So, clearly, money isn’t as much of an issue as we’ve been led to believe, so what to do about the overseas Boks?
To answer that question, we have to look at how many Europe-based Boks have come and actually made a difference in the past. I reckon only Percy Montgomery, Francois Louw, Bryan Habana and, to a lesser extent Fourie du Preez, have.
Montgomery came back from Wales and basically kicked the Boks to World Cup glory; Louw left South Africa as a blindside flanker and returned an excellent fetcher; and while Habana may be slower than he used to be, he hasn’t stopped scoring and putting his body on the line.
Du Preez looked like a million bucks when he returned from international retirement and played club rugby in Japan in 2013, but that was because he’d had two seasons to rejuvenate.
Usually a player coming back from the northern hemisphere seems to be a yard off the pace