How good will the standard of the 2020 Super Rugby competition be? Or, more to the point, how will the already struggling South African franchises do?
These two questions became even more important with the news that the Springboks and Bulls flyhalf Handré Pollard (photo GB Jordaan) will also be lost to South African rugby following the upcoming World Cup tournament. He has been made an offer of more than R20 million per year and will play for Montpellier, Jake White’s former club where many South Africans have plied their trade in recent years.
He will join up with among others fellow South Africans Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, France international lock Paul Willemse, Wiaan Liebenberg, Ruan Pienaar, Jan Serfontein, Frans Steyn, Johan Goosen, Jacques du Plessis, and Henry Immelman,
The news about Pollard’s departure follows a day after Sunday’s news that Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen is on his way to the Sale Sharks.
♦ While these two stalwarts of their franchise teams will be sorely missed in Durban and Pretoria, it is the greater picture that is of real concern – and not only at international level.
Although New Zealand and to a lesser extent the Wallabies will also lose many of their top players, South Africa’s reserve depth at Super Rugby level is presently just above woeful.
How can South African rugby afford to lose players of the calibre of the Stormers Eben Etzebeth (Toulon, France), EW Viljoen (Leicester Tigers, England) and Dillyn Leyds (Wasps, England)? They, and those below, are only some of the players known to have committed to overseas clubs.
Add to that the Lions duo Stephan Lewies (Harlequins) and Nic Groom (Edinburgh, Scotland); seven players from the Bulls, Lood de Jager (Sales Sharks), RG Snyman (Honda Heat, Japan), Handré Pollard (Montpellier), Jason Jenkins (Canon Eagles Japan), Eli Snyman (Treviso, Italy), Hendré Stassen (Stade Francais, France) and Duane Vermeulen (Kubota Spears, Japan); the Sharks Oosthuizen, Jacques Vermeulen (Exeter Chiefs, England), Akker van der Merwe, Jean-Luc du Preez, Dan du Preez and Robert du Preez (all Sale Sharks, England).
There remains uncertainty about the movement of other top internationals, including Jesse Kriel (Bulls) who it is reported has signed for the Canon Eagles in Japan, the Lions Warren Whiteley, Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies (all Lions), Stormers Steven Kitshoff, SA Player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bok captain Siya Kolisi and Frans Malherbe (all Stormers); and Sharks Beast Mtawarira and Curwin Bosch.
♦ These players will not be the only ones to be approached. The overseas clubs will also cast their net to include a number of (cheaper) non-internationals, like outstanding wing Duhan van der Merwe (who plays for Edinburgh and is the brother of Springbok hooker Akker), Michael Rhodes, Cheslin Kolbe and Paul Willemse when they were first contracted, Wiaan Liebenberg, Demetri Catrakilis and many, many more.
Many of them are of course not of the required Super Rugby standard. However, among the more than 500 South Africans playing overseas, an outstanding foursome of Super Rugby teams could’ve been developed.
But then, the lure of the yen, euro and the dollar, is not restricted to SA players, although they are more easily coaxed overseas that the New Zealanders and Australians, whose exchange rates are substantially stronger than that of the SA rand.