Wake-up call for SA

2013-08-27 00:00

THE Springboks are starting to feel the pinch for fielding overseas-based players in their Test team. Five members of their Rugby Championship squad returned to their French clubs rather than travelling back to South Africa yesterday.

While the Bok squad arrived back in Johannesburg after their win over the Pumas in Mendoza, Bryan Habana (Toulon), Morné Steyn (Stade Francais), Juandré Kruger (Racing Metro), Jano Vermaak and Gürthro Steenkamp (both Toulouse) flew to France.

The players, contracted to French clubs and not the Springboks, will all be involved in this weekend’s Top 14 third round while the rest of the South African squad have the weekend off.

SA Rugby Union (Saru) CEO Jurie Roux said yesterday that the French clubs had requested the players’ release, though Toulon said Habana was contracted to return.

“Bryan is paid by the club, it’s normal that he comes just like all the staff if he is asked,” said Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal.

Roux said yesterday that Saru could have refused to release the players.

“This is a unique situation and a once-off concession to these four French clubs,” said Roux.

“Most of these players recently joined the French league. Although we could’ve opted to keep them with the squad to prepare for the Australasian leg, we decided to adhere to their requests to allow them to return to their clubs for matches this weekend.

“If selected in the squad for the Tests in Australia and New Zealand, they will join the Springboks in Brisbane on Monday,” he added.

The Bok squad will be named tomorrow and will gather on Thursday before flying to Brisbane on Saturday for the next Rugby Championship international a week later. The French-based players will trek from France to Australia on Monday, severely disrupting Heyneke Meyer’s preparations for the two decisive clashes in the competition, against the Wallabies on September 7 and the All Blacks in Auckland on September 14.

Saru face an impossible battle trying to keep South Africa’s leading players in the country with French and Japanese clubs, in particular, offering massive contracts.

Springbok wing Habana is the third highest earner in the French Top 14, reportedly earning around R750 000 per month. Habana’s Toulon team-mate, former England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, is the highest earner in the French Top 14 with about R800 000 per month, followed by Racing Metro’s Irish flyhalf Jonathan Sexton with R780 000.

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said at O.R. Tambo yesterday that he had wanted immediate action taken against the Pumas for foul play.

Pumas backrowers Leonardo Senatore and Pablo Matera have been cited for biting and eye-gouging, which he said had no part in the game.

The television match official could not confirm either incident.

“We had already seen one incident where one of our players [Francois Louw] said there was a finger in his eye. Then Eben came with bite marks on his arm,” De Villiers said.

“Those are things that you don’t want to be sorted out afterwards — you want the benefit during the game.

“It is out of our hands now. I just tried to put pressure on him [Walsh] to take care of it on the field and, unfortunately, at that stage the lines of communications weren’t there.”

De Villiers said the narrow and sloppy victory would serve a purpose in forcing the players to see everything in perspective.

“It is perhaps the wake-up call we needed before playing the Wallabies. It is important for us to see that we still have a lot to do, to get to where we want to be,” he said. “There is still a lot of hard work ahead of us. We get together again on Thursday and we will be preparing well for the trip abroad.”

He said the Boks had made too many errors in a stop-start Test in which the Pumas had successfully denied them quick ball.

The Pumas had, in highlighting their problem areas, shown them the way forward, the Springbok captain said.

Meanwhile, coach Meyer will be holding thumbs that his five players involved in France steer clear of injury and travel well.

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