Johannesburg - Jaque Fourie’s unexpected and sudden decision to retire from international rugby is a massive blow to the Springboks’ plans to win the Rugby World Cup next year, the supersport.com website reports.
The midfielder announced his retirement from international rugby on Thursday, ironically at the same time he extended his lucrative contract with Japanese club Kobelco Steelers and shortly after turning down an offer to play for the Cell C Sharks in next year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition.
It is a decision that has taken the Bok camp by surprise and one which has thrown coach Heyneke Meyer’s plans into question.
It is no secret that Meyer envisaged a role for Fourie in the team to go to the Rugby World Cup.
Returned from injury
Fourie's appearance last year in the end-of-season tour highlighted that and Meyer has been consistent in praising Fourie and his influence on the Japanese league since his move there.
With no specialist 13 centre chosen for the current tour, the Boks were operating under the belief that Fourie would be available when they needed him, so much so that they even decided not to call him up for this tour on the basis he had only recently returned from injury.
Meyer met Fourie on the Bok management’s recent visit to Japan when they were visiting sponsors Asics. It was clear from conversations with the Bok management that they had decided not to push him to tour this time to ensure they have him available for all the camps leading up to the Rugby World Cup.
The Boks are currently playing two specialist 12s in the midfield, with Jan Serfontein growing in stature as he and captain Jean de Villiers are slowly building a formidable partnership. But while they have been devastatingly solid on defence, on attack their cohesion needs some more work.
JP Pietersen is seen as the natural backup to the duo at 13, with Damian de Allende – who is on the bench this weekend – the Boks other option.
Meyer has made it clear by his selections that he is looking for a big, powerful 13 to fulfil the role in the midfield, which means that those punting DHL Western Province captain Juan de Jongh for the position are likely to be disappointed. De Jongh has, apart from a brief appearance in squads in 2012 and 2013, never featured in Meyer’s plans and less than a year away from the World Cup that is unlikely to change now.
Fourie said he had thought long and hard about his decision to retire.
“After much consideration with regards to my current career status, I have decided to not make myself available for any international rugby and have chosen to remain focused on continuing with my current club, Kobelco Steelers.
"The decision to retire from international rugby was not an easy one but I am looking forward to what the future holds for myself and my family,” he said through his agents Union Sports.
But the underlying tone of the statement was that his club contract had trumped his international duty.
Sources in Japan point to a possible clause put in by the Steelers which ultimately forced Fourie to retire from international rugby if he was to extend his contract, and with the money topping R5m a year at the moment, it isn’t difficult to see this as a massive contribution to the decision.
However, in Bok terms, Meyer has not lost both Fourie and Frans Steyn – the latter never likely to put on a Bok jersey again – both due to circumstances beyond the Bok coach’s control, there is some concern now that the Boks may have painted themselves into a bit of a corner in terms of midfield selection, only to be dropped by Fourie’s decision.
While no guarantees were ever given from either side, anyone who has heard Meyer speak over the past few years would know that if Fourie was fit and available, the Bok coach would choose him.
Yet further than this, it also rules out Andries Bekker – who similarly extended his contract with the same club – from the Rugby World Cup and also poses some massive question marks about the future of Boks playing in Japan, especially with Pietersen, Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger all still under contract there.
All three are well into their careers but are likely to be available for the World Cup. After that, it is anyone’s guess.