Departing SA coaches give SA Rugby grey hairs

Garrin Lambley (File)
Garrin Lambley (File)

South African coaches lured abroad by more financially lucrative pound / euro / yen-paying jobs, spells double disaster for the game in the country.

Not only is their vast expertise lost (English, French, Japanese clubs only chase the shrewdest of rugby brains), but more damagingly, they have this nasty habit of enticing a host of players who previously did duty for them, along for the ride.

Think the Saracens dynasty in England, Jake White at the Brumbies, Montpellier and now Toyota Verblitz, and most recently Johan Ackermann at Gloucester as three prime examples - with a fourth one looming large on the horizon.

Saracens, backed by Johann Rupert's gazillions and under the guidance of Edward Griffiths and Brendan Venter (with Morne du Plessis and Francois Pienaar among their board of directors) have dominated the English scene since the late 1990s.

Several of the greatest players in the club's history that helped them establish a firm grip on the England scene, have been South Africans.

Players like Schalk Brits, Neil de Kock, Cobus Visagie, Ernst Joubert and Petrus du Plessis have all played well over 100 matches for their adopted club, while others - Vincent Koch, Schalk Burger and Michael Rhodes - are current members of this season's title-winning squad.

In addition, other South Africans we all know well - Deon Carstens, Jannie de Beer, Alistair Hargreaves, Derick Hougaard, Gavin Johnson, Brent Russell, John Smit, Wikus van Heerden, Ethienne Reynecke, Jono Ross and Pienaar himself - were at some stage been lured from these shores by the SA influence at Sarries.

There's no love lost between SA Rugby and former Springbok coach Jake White, and the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning mentor had no problem strengthening the Brumbies in 2012 and 2013 with prime South African beef, while his time at Montpellier in France between 2014-2017 saw an unprecedented one-way conveyor belt of talent leave the country, bound for the Top 14.

Household names like Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Francois Steyn, Paul Willemse, Wiaan Liebenberg and Demetri Catrakilis all made southern France their new home under White.

White's latest gig in Japan has seen no stemming of the exodus of South African talent, with Jason Jenkins, Carl Wegner and Clinton Swart joining Lionel Cronje and Gio Aplon in buying whatever White is selling in the Far East.

Former Lions coach Johan Ackermann was for many the logical next Springbok coach following this back-to-back Super Rugby finals (in 2016 & 2017) as well as being entrusted with the SA 'A' job.

Alas, after Allister Coetzee came and went, Rassie Erasmus got the green and gold job - and Ackermann now finds himself at Gloucester in England.

His first appointment? His son, Ruan.

That was quickly followed by another Lions stalwart in Jaco Kriel and Sharks hooker Franco Marais.

Then on Wednesday came the double-whammy confirmation that Lions Springboks Franco Mostert and Ruan Dreyer would also be packing their bags, catching flights from OR Tambo with their final destination the West Country.

While the three above-mentioned cases are certainly not the only occasions, a worrying fourth situation looms large - and will hopefully be giving the top brass at SA Rugby sleepless nights.

A second former national coach with a frosty history with SA Rugby is Heyneke Meyer.

The very same Meyer who will take over at French giants Stade 'we-have-money-to-spend' Francais for the 2018/19 season.

Such is the unabated demand, every South African rugby player left in SA will be well advised to stay close to their cellphones in the coming months, expecting the French +33 dialling code to pop up on their screens.

This especially after SA Rugby took the decision to do away with the '30-cap Test rule' and open the floodgates to every player to 'have their cake and eat it' by playing abroad and still being eligible for Springbok selection.

The change - and the rule's original implementation - has been debated to death with opinion divided on its respective merits.

Interestingly, the only two countries in the world (with any rugby worth) that don't permit the picking of overseas-based players are No 1-ranked New Zealand and No 3-ranked England, while fourth-ranked Australia implement a hybrid-type system - The Giteau Rule - where a certain number of Test caps (60 unless otherwise decided) allows for selection if based abroad.

On a recent episode of the excellent New Zealand rugby programme The Breakdown - the equivalent to the SuperSport show formally known as Boots & All - this very matter was discussed, with the esteemed panellists in unison vehemently defending New Zealand Rugby's stance of remaining loyal to those players who remained loyal to the game in the country.

The polar opposite scenario holds the sway vote in South Africa.

For how long the country can afford to have top players pack their bags en masse and dilute the Super Rugby franchises and Currie Cup line-ups before sponsors walk away and fans stay away, remains to be seen...

Garrin Lambley is a very frustrated rugby fan and Editor of Sport24 for his sins...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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