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The next game for the Lions will probably be a Super Rugby warm-up match somewhere in January 2020, while the 1st Super Rugby match is against the Jaguares in BA on 1 Feb 2020, kickoff at 23:40 SA Time.

Opinion - SA's Super Rugby future: look on the bri

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Leeubok View Drop Down
Koning Leeu
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    Posted: 27-Jun-2019 at 11:02am

South Africa’s future in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition may to some be seen as dark and gloomy but in essence the changes over the last year in the contracting system and the competition itself present a brave and calculated gamble that could pay off if used correctly.

There have been enough media articles highlighting the negative side of losing a plethora of stars overseas this year, but while it has been a significant core of the Springbok squad, the moves north are, in fact, less than in previous years north.

What is different this year is that so many first choice Springbok players are heading overseas – either to France, England or Japan and while that may be normal in a post-World Cup year, it does – at least at face value – present a case that SA Rugby has lost the battle to keep its top stars in the country.

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the local market in recent years. While the currency has gone down, rugby unions have tried everything in their power to keep their stars in the country, often blowing their salary budgets to do so.

Players know their market value and as such, it hasn’t been surprising to hear that almost R80-million was spent by SA Rugby on Springbok contracts – a figure that was fast rising and unable to compete with the overseas market trends.

Blue Bulls president Willem Strauss remarked the other day that the difference between now and when the Bulls were faced after the 2007 World Cup with trying to keep their stars was simple. Back then there were just as many offers for players such as Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Bakkies Botha. The difference was the exchange rate was easier – the rand was R6 to the dollar, as compared with almost R15 to the dollar it is currently.

And while that makes for sombre reading, Rassie Erasmus’ decision to enforce Regulation 9 and place no limits on where Springboks play has been great for Springbok rugby, but possibly the opposite for Super Rugby franchises.

But with over 400 players playing overseas and there being no viable match for the big money contracts being offered to players by clubs in Europe and Japan, it is hardly surprising either. A second division Japanese club now offers more than a Springbok can earn via his Super Rugby franchise and Springbok top-up contract combined.

This is why the change in the contracting system has become so important. Instead of trying to compete abroad at skyrocketing currency, the decision to look to a leaner, more focused system has more than enough merits.

For years now franchises have wasted resources – the Bulls contracted 203 players before the new CEO took over – with many of them wasting their talents sitting on the sidelines.

So what then of Super Rugby and facing the might of the New Zealand sides and the rising power of Argentina year for year when the best Boks are abroad?

This is where it gets interesting. Erasmus’ Players of National Interest (PONI) system, where the top three players in a position and two rising juniors will be offered top-ups by SA Rugby is an intruiging one.

The move, at the same time to squads of no greater than 45 will place the emphasis on targeted junior development, with teams needing to manage their squads better and contract with specific needs in mind.

There are dangers, and we have already seen a move by French clubs to start targeting schoolgoing players to overcome the eligibility issues in France. But while some players may choose this route, it is also an indication that the cash-flush French clubs are no longer an easy bet for players wanting to play overseas.

Japan has similarly started focusing on imports that will play for its national teams while Ireland, Scotland and Wales have “project players” already that they bring in to bolster the national squad. While it is easy to argue the ethics of this, the point is that it is increasingly likely that unless a player is targeted to play test rugby for a foreign nation, the club sabatticals are likely to become less and less, especially for middle tier players.

This leaves local Super Rugby franchises with an option. While they may lose their top stars, they now will have a targeted budget to work within, and can identify the top players locally and look to build a squad over a number of years.

And top squads around the world have shown that while x-factor is a necessity, squads are built over time – something that Super Rugby franchises have been robbed of in recent times.

The next step would be to lure a few experienced veterans back to transfer their experience to the youngsters and to work as mentors within the squads.

South African rugby has always been a pool of talent encased in a system that allows for a bit of chaos, and over the years it has been easy to forget talent that has left because there has always been another candidate coming through the ranks.

But this isn’t a sustainable model, and results in Super Rugby have shown that. Contrast this to the powerhouse European clubs, or the Crusaders , who sign stars on five year contracts and build squads around them. South African franchises haven’t had that luxury over the past decade.

It would be easy to write off the changes as a grim future, but if managed correctly, and if the planning is done properly and talent identification is specific and not a blanket affair at junior level, it may just work.

It should, if used correctly, usher in a Super Rugby competition where talent is targeted and squads are more even, and if backed up with good coaching, should be able to compete with the best Super Rugby has to offer.

The reality is though, the time that you could build a squad of 15 Springboks out of 30 to take into Super Rugby looks to be gone. Unless the currently gets an upswing, to chase it would blow the budgets of every franchise.

It’s time to be more targeted, more focused and to utilise the talent out there to the best of its ability. Ireland and Scotland have small talent pools and are succeeding. The Jaguares are proof that foreign cash can be countered if a targeted system is used.

South Africa’s Super Rugby future strength is unclear at this stage. It may look dark to some, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s up to local franchises to find the perfect formula to make that happen.

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Koning Leeu
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Leeubok Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Jun-2019 at 11:05am
"It should, if used correctly, usher in a Super Rugby competition where talent is targeted and squads are more even, and if backed up with good coaching, should be able to compete with the best Super Rugby has to offer."

Dit maak nie vir my sin nie. Hoe gaan dit enigsins tot super rugby spanne se voordeel wees as al die land se beste spelers oorsee gaan speel? Al wat ek dink gaan gebeur is die 4 SA spanne gaan almal ewe swak wees. Jong talent is nie genoeg om die Saders in NZ te gaan klop nie. 

En se nou maar daar is vlg seisoen n paar jong outjies wat hand opsteek en baie goed doen.. Dis nie lank voor oorsese clubs hul raaksien en 'n aanbod maak nie, en dan begin jy maar weer van voor af 'n span bou. 
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