Money the real puppeteer

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
One has to wonder how the South African provinces, along with their sponsors, feel about SARU’s latest pandering to the overseas clubs that are employing the services of our players...

GALLERY: Overseas Springbok XV

Especially the Bulls... Having taken 60 points on Saturday from a side that was not even playing Super Rugby this year, they wake to the news that all of Morné Steyn (Stade Francais), Bryan Habana (Toulon), Juandré Kruger (Racing Metro), Gurthrö Steenkamp and Jano Vermaak (both Toulouse) had been released to play for their respective French clubs this weekend.

This while Zane Kirchner and Chiliboy Ralepelle were added to a 28-man Bok squad to take on Australia and New Zealand, all of whom are not available to play for their Currie Cup sides this weekend.

So the Bulls take 60 from the Lions, see five former players (who, at some stage would have not been released to play for the Bulls while playing for the Boks) released to play for their French clubs, and lose two more players to the Bok squad. This while they pay the player’s primary salary and look to give high paying sponsors value for their money...

And having already pandered to his Japanese club’s request to only play Fourie du Preez in the home games of the Rugby Championship, one has to wonder how far SARU will be willing to go to play these overseas based players.

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

“Most of these players recently joined the French league and 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.”

To be honest, I am not sure how much “adhering” was going on here ... More likely it was a case of “release these players back to us this weekend or else ...”

Sure the IRB have regulations as to when clubs have to release players for international duty, but that was before Johnny Wilkinson was being paid R738 500 per month by Toulon to play for them. And way before Bakkies Botha and Bryan Habana were being paid R540 000 and R660 000 per month respectively per month to play for Toulon.

The IRB might think they make the rules, but the reality is that the holders of the puppet strings are the same people with the purse. Just ask the ICC about keeping the Indian Cricket Board in check. Money rules the roost, and at the moment, that money sits in France and Japan.

As said on numerous occasions, I do not begrudge these players earning as much as they possibly can while fit. I also do not expect them to say no to a Bok call up, and yet another match fee pay day. And if I was club owner in France paying someone the equivalent of a small African country’s GDP to play rugby for me each year, I would want him available for every game.

But to see SARU pandering to these absurd requests is belittling, both to the national side, and to the country. And it is unfair on the structures on which SARU is built - the provinces, franchises, and players. There is a good reason why they are not letting the Boks play in the Currie Cup this weekend, but it should apply to all.

Until we have a truly global season, it is also impractical for a player to try and play in both hemispheres as he serves two masters with the same resource - his body. A bit like trying to pay for two loaves of bread with by splitting the money needed for one loaf in half.

I have a feeling that this current rugby economy is a false one built out of cards, and that a fairly industrial hurricane is just around the corner.

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt

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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