Cape Town - There is no doubt that a large part of the Springboks’ success has been due to their ever-growing overseas-based contingent, but should the blanket open selection policy continue forever?
That was the interesting question raised by Bulls director of rugby Jake White in the aftermath of prop Trevor Nyakane leaving Pretoria for Racing 92 in Paris.
White actually felt that it was a good outcome for the Bulls – as Nyakane’s continued involvement at Test level meant that he hardly featured for his franchise.
But the former Bok coach feels that the domestic teams will continue to suffer if national coach Jacques Nienaber is able to select any South African player based at an overseas club.
The SA Rugby have flipped and flopped on the matter in recent years. They gave Heyneke Meyer the go-ahead to pick anyone, but he was always reluctant to do so and preferred those back home, saying in 2013: “I will still pick guys from overseas, but I will definitely play guys playing in the country, because it makes sense to do so.
“This is especially when you have training camps, you want to have them here.”
Then Saru changed their policy when Allister Coetzee became Bok coach in 2016, stating that overseas-based players must have at least 30 Test caps to their name.
That saw a number of players unavailable for selection, and the rule was abolished when Rassie Erasmus replaced Coetzee in 2018, with any eligible South African able to play for the Boks. “I think one thing that has to be looked at going forward, as a franchise coach, is overseas players being picked for South Africa: is that going to be forever? Because it is going to come at the detriment of franchise rugby. That is a fact,” White said after Nyakane’s move was made public last week.
“The reality is … the debate goes on in Australia now as to whether they can pick Will Skelton. They call it the Giteau Law (60 Tests), as to how many Tests they need to play.
“The Irish model is working now – no Irish player plays abroad. The Kiwi model, no Kiwi player plays abroad. So, I am not sure what the answer is, but I am wearing my franchise hat – if you get them for five games, is it worth keeping them? I am not so sure.
“I am not sure that the return on investment offers you the luxury of having so many players unavailable for long periods of time, and you have a salary cap.
“Trevor was never going to stay forever – that’s something that we always expected … Not for any other reason that post another World Cup, I can’t see him wanting to play domestic rugby.
“The timing is not always in everyone’s favour. If he goes now – which is highly likely – we haven’t had him for six months, and probably won’t have him for a big chunk of next year with Rugby Championships and the incoming tours. And we definitely won’t have him in 2023, when there’s preparation for the World Cup.
“If you do your sums and you work out your return on investment – not taking anything away from Trevor, who has been fantastic for the Bulls, and is an unbelievable team guy – but sometimes, even the great Alex Ferguson knows when to release players, and sometimes it’s the right time.
“We are not affected as much (as the other SA URC teams). In fact, we are affected the least, with only Trevor. I can imagine sides like Province and the Sharks, it must be a completely different debate for them. It would be interesting to see what their viewpoint would be.”
Nyakane’s departure for Racing 92 highlighted the fact that domestic teams are losing out on top Boks in the URC, while the financial implications of keeping a Test player on the books were also considerable.
The Bulls were also unable to utilise Duane Vermeulen, Morné Steyn and Johan Grobbelaar during the Rugby Championship, with Vermeulen subsequently joining Ulster following the Boks’ November tour to Europe.
The Sharks were hardest hit during the international season, with all of Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Aphelele Fassi, Grant Williams, Thomas du Toit, Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi touring with the Boks in 2021.
Some of the overseas-based players involved with the Boks this year include Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Cobus Reinach, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Marco van Staden, Rynhardt Elstadt, Franco Mostert, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Malcolm Marx and Joseph Dweba.
“It does change things (not having Boks available for URC matches). You have to pay those guys big money and you want them to be part of your team. For example, in my team, you lose guys like Ivan van Zyl and Marco van Staden in one year, it changes what we have,” White said.
“Sure, we got lucky in that we got Embrose Papier and Zak Burger to join us, and we got Marcell Coetzee to come in for Marco. But at the same time, imagine I could’ve had those two players, as well as the two players who joined us – how strong we would be …
“So, it’s not ideal. If you are looking after your franchise, you don’t really want to have players who can only play for you for four or five games, and you never see them.
“It’s the same for a club overseas – I’m sure if clubs overseas only got to see their players for a short space of time, I would be very surprised if the big French or English clubs would pay the money they pay if they never got to use their players.
“It is something, looking at Trevor’s model, that is not ideal. Therefore, it is better for them to go overseas.”
The Bulls are planning to bring in one or two more tighthead props to make up for Nyakane, while Mornay Smith is the first-choice No 3, with the experienced Jacques van Rooyen and youngster Robert Hunt the back-ups.
White said that Bok loosehead Lizo Gqoboka has also been working hard in training as a tighthead, as that is where he played for Eastern Province when he started his senior career.