FACT: Rassie now 'loses control' of most top Boks

Rassie Erasmus (Getty Images)
Rassie Erasmus (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Call it the imminent hangover to follow the sublime, unifying countrywide party.

For the first time in history, SA Rugby is about to lose significant levels of jurisdiction - most relevantly when it comes to workload monitoring - over the majority of the frontline-pick, recently World Cup-winning Springboks.

That means Rassie Erasmus, the outgoing head coach who nevertheless stays integral to Bok immediate future plans as director of rugby, is on the brink of experiencing the previously unprecedented characteristic of having less than 50 percent of his current “first XV” stationed amidst domestic franchises as a new season looms in late January.

Erasmus and one or two predecessors as chief national team mastermind have put a particularly special effort, in recent years, into installing agreeable levels of co-operation with Super Rugby franchises over the use and well-being of core Boks.

It very soon becomes a severely watered-down “arrangement”, however, especially when applied to the settled kernel of starting players from the Boks’ triumphant march throughout the knockout phase of RWC 2019 in Japan.

The exodus of star names to lucrative foreign club climes has reached a point where more than half of that group - eight, to be exact - will begin 2020 outside of the Super Rugby landscape, which features all four of South Africa’s traditionally biggest-name franchises.

Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende (though the inspiring RWC midfield figure may still see some service to the Stormers late in their campaign), Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will all now predominantly be on the books of foreign outfits.

Of the present Bok first XV, that leaves only Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks) and captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers) still locally-based and able to fall in line with the intended, constructive “rapport” during the demanding Super Rugby slog between franchises and the umbrella body.

Loosehead prop legend Tendai Mtawarira has now retired from Test rugby, though that leaves Steven Kitshoff - currently contracted at cash-challenged Newlands - as his most obvious replacement in the No 1 jersey.

The slight silver lining for Erasmus and company, then, is that they will retain (for the time being) a meaningful sense of jurisdiction over five of the Bok players occupying premier status in the area of play which brings the most burdensome physical demands in rugby: the pack.

Having all five on deals with the Stormers - unless there are any dramatic alternative developments in pre-season - will also be valuable to the Cape Town-based Erasmus and his SA Rugby bosses more broadly.

The likes of Kolisi and Du Toit, not always rotated as frequently as others as the Boks’ 2019 season reached a crescendo, must be thoroughly exhausted after the glory-laden demands of the World Cup and the near week-long homecoming parades and other obligations, and will need serious feet-up time for the next couple of months - and then careful use in Super Rugby 2020 itself.

A delicate balance will have to be struck, of course, as the Stormers, under a new coach in John Dobson, are under pressure to buck up their performance in the competition after a humdrum 10th-place finish this year.

WP Rugby will also desperately want meaningful tallies of bums on seats in almost certainly the nostalgic final year of professional rugby at Newlands, and a crucial part of that desire will naturally involve the public seeing the franchise’s Webb Ellis Cup-clinching stars in action as much as possible.

As far as the overseas-based Springboks are concerned, the one plus about the few months preceding a new Test campaign - in mid-2020 - is that most of them will do less travel through debilitating time zones than their colleagues still resident in the widely-scattered Super Rugby landscape.

But their mass absence from in-season, routine checks and updates with SA Rugby will nevertheless be of some concern to the meticulous, precise planner who is Erasmus.

It was notably less of a problem after the previous World Cup in 2015, for example, when only five of the 15 (one third) who began the narrowly-surrendered semi-final against New Zealand at Twickenham were not returning to SA franchise engagements immediately afterwards: Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis.

The last time South Africa won the World Cup, in 2007, all of their starters from the Parisian final were due to return to local contracts.

Times have certainly changed dramatically ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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