Eyewitness News (www.ewn.co.za) reported on Monday that the South African Rugby Union (SARU) has agreed unusually long-term contracts with at least 10 big-name Boks – most of them relative veterans, but also some emerging hot properties – which will prevent them from joining clubs abroad in often lucrative deals until after RWC 2015 in England and Wales.
National contracts are usually dispensed annually, which leaves plenty of flexibility for top players to pick and choose spells when they might want to take advantage of strong the Euro and Japanese currency and sample a couple of years abroad.
Some of the Boks now nailed down for roughly two years have already gone that route – captain Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn spring to mind – but the deals ensure that the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Bismarck du Plessis, Duane Vermeulen and others will remain guaranteed features of the local rugby landscape for the foreseeable future.
According to the report, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Willem Alberts, Tendai Mtawarira and Siya Kolisi are the others who have put pen to paper, with an 11th big name JP Pietersen (currently campaigning in Japan anyway) tipped to follow suit for a 2015-specific agreement shortly.
It quoted the CEO of the South African Players Association (SARPA), Piet Heymans, as saying: “Both ourselves and SARU shared the same vision that longer-term contracts are the way to go.
“(Bok coach) Heyneke Meyer played a very important role as he was able to identify the core players.”
The contracts help give the Boks useful stability in their planning for RWC 2015.
But some critics may also be tempted to see mixed blessings in the revelation of the deals: what they also mean is that those players who have committed will stay on the gruelling southern hemisphere treadmill, including the ever-expanding demands of Super Rugby these days, for yet another two years at least.
Based on informal chats by this writer with a couple of bosses of leading local Super Rugby franchises, there is a mounting fear that the current, murderous playing model is unsustainable to the next World Cup, with deep fears that several over-played customers will have succumbed to fatigue and the heightened risk of disruptive injuries by then.
Perhaps the long-term SARU contracts are, indeed, a step in the right direction, but they do not seem to yet feature any extra power by the national body to “manage” blue-chip players, who remain primarily contracted to their franchises.
In New Zealand, for instance, central contracting is a feature of the landscape, allowing some cocooning of top All Blacks at appropriate times, like through periods of sabbatical for a few months.
During a recent extended interview with Sport24, SARU CEO Jurie Roux confessed: “We’re the secondary employer; an add-on.
“It’s a no-brainer, (central contracting) gives New Zealand an advantage ... it will probably keep them No 1 until we get it right.”
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