As expected, many Springbok rugby players have signed contracts with big-spending overseas clubs in Europe and Japan. Winning the World Cup has made ‘our boys’ more attractive targets for these clubs.
Including the two replacements, Thomas du Toit (Nyakane) and Damian Willemse (Kriel) there were 33 members of the Springbok squad at the 2019 RWC. As it stands at the moment, only 13 will continue playing for franchises in South Africa. This number could dwindle even further in the next few months as players are lured by the euro, pound and yen.
Financial wellbeing is the prime motive for the majority of these ‘exports’ as they seek to secure a more stable future. Furthermore, the financial losses suffered by the South African Rugby Union due to COVID-19 necessitated drastic cost-cutting measures.
These included allowing players a 21-day window period to exit their contracts with local franchises via an escape clause. Local franchises have also implemented salary reductions for players which, allied to a weakening rand, make contracts abroad even more appetising. This situation has been thrust upon SA Rugby due to loss of revenue from cancelled international and local rugby competitions.
The winning World Cup squad will be scattered across the globe when play resumes – hopefully in the not too distant future! At the moment, squad members are contracted as follows:
Japan (7 players) – Duane Vermeulen, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Willie le Roux (ex Wasps)
England (6 players) – Faf de Klerk, Franco Mostert, Vincent Koch, Cobus Reinach, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager
France (5 players) – Cheslin Kolbe, Handré Pollard, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Steyn (will be returning to Cheetahs)
South Africa (13 players)
Stormers – Pieter-Steph du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbanambi, Damian Willemse, Herschel Jantjies
Sharks – Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Sbu Nkosi
Bulls – Warrick Gelant, Trevor Nyakane
Lions – Elton Jantjies
Retired (2 players) – Schalk Britz and Tendai Mtawarira (The latter has indicated interest in a contract abroad as a swansong to his career.)
There was some consternation among Stormers fans when 27-year-old, World Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph du Toit exited his contract with Western Province on 14 May. He had taken advantage of the 21-day escape clause allowing players to exit their contracts with local franchises. Rumours abounded that he had been targeted by Top 14 French club, Montpellier, which offered him an attractive three-year contract of ± R75 million.
Much to the delight of streeptruie supporters, Pieter-Steph has withdrawn his contract termination notification and committed his immediate future to the Union. He will remain with the franchise until at least the end of the British and Irish Lions tour scheduled for next year. In line with other local franchise players, he will take a salary cut as per the rugby industry financial impact plan. The offer from Montpellier would have placed him at the top of the highest-paid rugby players in the world.
Clubs in Japan have apparently shown interest in Springbok and Sharks stars, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am, but it is not only the World Cup winning players who are on the overseas clubs’ radars. Other South African rugby players who have already signed contracts abroad include EW Viljoen, Dillyn Leyds and SP Marais (Stormers); Jason Jenkins and Handré Liebenberg (Bulls); Jacques Vermeulen and Akker van der Merwe (Sharks); and Stephen Lewies and Nic Groom (Lions).
The South African rugby talent drain has been ongoing for a number of years and well over 200 players are plying their trade abroad. Our players have contributed to the success of overseas clubs and a number have gone on to represent other national teams. At the recent World Cup there were 14 South African-born players representing other participating nations.
Despite the exodus of players, our country continues to produce high-class rugby players. Evidence of this is our victories at three World Cups in just seven appearances, a better record than any other rugby-playing nation. Most important for now, the Springboks are World Champions and we hold this honour for the next four years!