Mind Games: Club vs nation conundrum

2013-09-09 10:00

The games of association football and rugby union are diametrically separated by many things, not least the shape of the ball. But in the last couple of days, divergent incidents brought about a telling confluence.

Last week in football, there was the news of the implausible fee of £84.7?million (R1.3?billion) paid by Spanish giants Real Madrid to Tottenham Hotspur.

And in rugby, there were dispatches about the routes certain Springbok players took to get to Australia.

Winger Bryan Habana arrived in Brisbane after making a 13?000km detour to play just 10 minutes for his new French club Toulon.

Stade Francais fly half Morné Steyn, lock Juandré Kruger (Racing Métro), prop Gurthrö Steenkamp and scrum half Jano Vermaak (both Toulouse) had also broken away from the Springboks to join up with their clubs.

This meant that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer did not have all his arrows in one quiver when he began preparing for yesterday’s test against the Wallabies.

The money earned by rugby players cannot be compared to the numbers recited when Gareth Bale was introduced to the Los Blancos faithfuls at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, but the impending problem for rugby is going to be the same.

Whereas football has long been caught up in the disputebetween club and nation, it is a conundrum that could soon escalate into unmanageable proportions in rugby.

Meyer took a pragmatic “it-is-what-it-is” stance to what was not an ideal situation in preparing for what he described as the two most important tests since taking overas coach.

But privately, he must be extremely concerned about how the increasing reality of absentee players is going to impact on his planning for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Just as Madrid will now proceed to try to extract every peseta possible out of the investment they have made in Bale (24), the owners of rugby clubs will be demanding their euros-worth from Springboks.

Habana, for instance, has moved to France for what is reported to be one of the highest wages paid to a rugby player; and Mourad Boudjellal, Toulon’s owner, did not part with his euros just for his star wing to play for the Boks.

In fact, Boudjellal probably has very little feeling for the Springboks, or even the French national side for that matter.

Rugby club owners might not add as many zeroes to the sums they deal in as their football counterparts, but they are driven by the same imperative, which is to see a return on their investments.

And the one thing they resent is to see their expensive bits of property, for that’s what professional players are, being compelled to play in events they have no control over.

The club owner thus finds himself paying out huge sums only to get nothing in return. And it’s only natural that he ring-fences his players or demands compensation – insurance that is almost impossible for national bodies to provide – in the instances that they are put out of action.

Equally, coaches of national teams are concerned that the players they might want to use are either fatigued or injured – particularly in rugby where internationals still outrank club or provincial competitions – and begrudge not having full control over their troops.

It is my contention that “equal play, for equal pay” is soon going to escalate into a major issue in local rugby with Super Rugby franchises and provinces objecting to their players being dragged away, and potentially injured, to do duty in test matches.

Mark my words, the day is not far off when the Bulls,Sharks or Stormers demand compensation for their players to play for the Boks, or simply refuse to release them.

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