Springbok World Cup-winning star Makazole Mapimpi turned down a staggering R9-million net offer from Japanese club NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in a dramatic transfer deadline day on Thursday, according to sources close to the dealmakers.
The Japan Top League outfit, who brought former Lions coach Johan Ackermann on board as their new coach, put down an offer of ¥80-million gross, which translated to about R14 million before tax.
After tax, the Sharks star was going to pocket R9 million per season, although it’s unclear what the duration of the contract was going to be.
"That was a massive shock," a source told Sport24.
Mapimpi was part of heavy speculation linking several top Sharks players with moves abroad after SA Rugby announced it Industry Strategic Plan, which allowed players to opt out of their contracts by 14 May and take up other offers. Their parent unions were prohibited from putting in counter offers.
The move was the rugby mother body’s attempt to stave off a potential R1-billion revenue loss due to the impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sharks chief executive Eduard Coetzee confirmed the interest in Mapimpi and the various Sharks players, saying they relied on the trust they had between management and the players to convince them to stay in Durban.
"First of all you can’t blame a player; they haven’t done anything wrong," said Coetzee said.
"So I said, let’s debunk this theory of us being in a confrontation [between management and players]. There is no confrontation between us, I said to Mapimpi.
"I told him that he didn’t need to feel guilty about anything because he’s done nothing wrong. That’s our culture at the Sharks. We want to do things in the light and we don’t speak around corners but we sit around the table, look each other in the eye, and we have a discussion.
"Mapimpi broke through a little later in his career but maybe going to Japan right now, where it’s unsettling and it’s mid-Covid-19, is possibly not the best thing for him to do.
"Maybe we can accommodate him during a three-year contract by giving him a six-month sabbatical [to go play in Japan].
"That is stuff we can consider when things are more settled and things are normalised to an extent. A lot of the players were driven by fear: that if they don’t go now they’re never gonna go. But if you go now, what are you going to?
"What does Japan look like? What happens if you sign a contract now, and you get out of the security of a contract here where the Sharks business is solid, and you go to a country where there’s another outbreak?"
Fellow World Cup-winner and front row forward Thomas du Toit was another top target well into Thursday night’s transfer deadline, but he turned down offers to move to France or the UK.
Bath and Exeter Chiefs came in for flyhalf Curwin Bosch and Saracens put a substantial offer in for 22-year-old lock Ruben van Heerden but both players chose to remain at the Sharks.
NEC Green Rockets made an audacious attempt to prize promising young Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi but he also opted to stay and be part of the project underway led by head coach Sean Everitt.
Moreover, SA Under-20 star JJ van der Mescht received an offer from French club Stade Francais, Coetzee confirmed.
"If Fassie wanted to go, he would have gone," said Coetzee.
"Curwin had a big offer from Bath but he phoned me and said, 'Listen, I don’t want it.' I spoke to Ruben van Heerden yesterday as well.
"I didn’t want to speak to the players before they made their decisions because I didn’t want to go into a position where I convince them to not go. Because if something goes wrong, they can always say, 'Yeah but you said this.'
"We waited for them to make the decision. Obviously, Sean spoke to the boys. We emphasised what we offer them off the field and the environment that we create and how we will try and develop them as players on and off the field.
"On the commercial side we weren’t allowed to speak money. We weren’t allowed to compensate them or counter any offers. It was a bit of an emotional exercise.
"That was 21 days where you couldn’t control anything. You’ve almost got to trust in the strength of the relationship we’ve got and let things go.
"I’m stoked it’s done."
However, the Sharks lost loose forward Tyler Paul to a Japan Top League side as well as Andisa Ntsila to the Cheetahs, as reported by Sport24.
South African players who remained in the country could face up to 43% pay decrease, for a maximum period of May to December, depending on the severity of the coronavirus on the rugby economy.
In the meantime, Japanese clubs put a siege on South Africa’s resources during the time uncertainty around contract negotiations. Docomo’s shopping spree extended to the Lions, where they found success in convincing 22-year-old former Monument High School lock Ruan Vermaak as well as assistant coach Neil de Bruin, Swys de Bruin’s son, who will now assist Ackermann in his new role.
Docomo are also rumoured to be interested in signing Rory Duncan as Ackermann’s forwards coach.
A deal involving Bulls flyhalf Manie Libbok to go to Durban was said to be concluded well in advance of the deadline for the 21-day opt out period. Libbok apparently also drew interest from the Stormers, who have lost flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis and fullback Dillyn Leyds, but the approach came too late.