Super Rugby

Coenie's exit sums up SA's S15 continuity crisis

Coenie Oosthuizen (Gallo)
Coenie Oosthuizen (Gallo)

Cape Town - Another day in South African rugby, another “defection” to northern climes.

Confirmation that barrelling Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen will join a different Sharks outfit after Super Rugby 2019 - English Premiership club Sale - just means that further havoc is wreaked with local franchises’ increasingly fruitless quest to build continuity and an associated, genuine title push in the SANZAAR competition.

Oosthuizen is 30, so just about in a front-ranker’s prime (they say props, in particular, get better with age) and gradually getting to grips in a meaningful way with his switch to tighthead, for past neck injury-related reasons, from the other side of the scrum.

He is an ideal element, really, in the Sharks’ still unashamedly physical, uncompromising style of rugby … though we will soon have to say “was” as he leaves for a lucrative three-year deal and a pretty good chance his southern hemisphere professional days are over, despite ongoing eligibility for the national side.

The thumping tackler and ball-carrier conspicuously swells Sale’s reputation for becoming another “Little South Africa”, if you like, on the other side of the Equator.

So steady has been the exodus of high-quality SA players in recent seasons - a phenomenon inevitably gathering further steam as we near the end of another World Cup four-yearly cycle - that several European clubs, at varying times, have been marked by robust numbers of South Africans on their books, including Toulon and Montpellier in France and admirably consistent English powerhouse Saracens.

Increasingly, too, Japanese clubs are recruiting players from our shores who commit themselves fully to employment in the Far East and do not surface back home any more for Super Rugby or Currie Cup needs.

The migration pattern is hardly helped by successful South African coaching masterminds like Jake White, Heyneke Meyer and Johan Ackermann now also earning their salaries in foreign currency and hardly being shy to lure players (either seasoned or sometimes more rookie-like) they know from their local tenures to newer folds.

You could say that Sale, in England’s north-west, has simply become the latest “SA ghetto”, guaranteeing that various players on their books are able to deal with any homesickness issues by getting together around a braai whenever possible and in several cases conversing agreeably in Afrikaans either within or outside squad ranks.

The club will boast, from next northern season, all of these well-known South African names on their books, including some who are already established: Oosthuizen, Lood de Jager, Akker van der Merwe, Robert du Preez, Faf de Klerk, Jono Ross ... as well as the lingering likelihood that brawny young blindside flanker Jean-Luc du Preez leaves another rather gaping, hazardous vacancy in the locally-based Sharks set-up from 2020 onward.

It is hardly a secret that a further volley of defections, from nationwide in SA Super Rugby rugby circles, is anticipated over the next few weeks and months.

What to do about it, of course, is truly a taxing, million-dollar (rather than rand, maybe?) question, such is the deepening vulnerability and powerlessness in many senses of South Africa’s currency.

It should be virtually beyond dispute that the seemingly endless “drip, drip” - and almost more of a stream now - of player departures to the north is a massive factor in explaining why the country has failed to land the Super Rugby title ever since the Bulls, of what is now genuinely a bygone era, did it three times in four years up to and including 2010.

There is just no reasonable opportunity for hard-pressed modern SA head coaches in the competition, whatever their strengths or shortcomings in other areas, to build the kind of settled kernel of a squad to challenge with suitable mettle for the main silverware.

To help bear out that point, I did a little exercise after completion of round 13 of Super Rugby at the weekend, examining the extent to which the four current, all depressingly inconsistent locally-based franchises (Sharks, Bulls, Lions, Stormers) have changed in squad make-up over the course of just three years.

In the equivalent round 13 of 2016, the Lions whipped the Jaguares 52-24 at Emirates Airline Park, the Sharks even more clinically demolished the Kings 53-0 at Kings Park, and the Bulls edged a tight derby against the Stormers at Loftus 17-13.

Here is a list of the players from that quartet of matchday squads (starters and reserves) no longer available for the particular outfit concerned – predominantly because of departures for overseas, though also including, in fairness, internal switches and some retirements.

Lions: Jaco van der Walt, Faf de Klerk, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Akker van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Ackermann, Warwick Tecklenburg, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

Sharks: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Pat Lambie, Michael Claassens, Keegan Daniel, Etienne Oosthuizen, Lourens Adriaanse, Dale Chadwick, Kyle Cooper, Stefan Ungerer, Garth April, Odwa Ndungane.

Bulls: Adriaan Strauss, Marcel van der Merwe, Lappies Labuschagne, Arno Botha, Piet van Zyl, Francois Brummer, Jan Serfontein, SP Marais, Pierre Schoeman, Grant Hattingh, Deon Stegmann, Rudy Paige, Tian Schoeman, Dries Swanepoel.

Stormers: Oliver Kebble, Nizaam Carr, Schalk Burger, Nic Groom, Leolin Zas, Johnny Kotze, Kobus van Wyk, Cheslin Kolbe, Vincent Koch, Rynhardt Elstadt, Louis Schreuder, Brandon Thomson, Huw Jones.

The pattern clearly indicates that for every period of patient “building” by the SA franchises, an almost inevitable, near-annual “rebuild” is then required - badly negating any progress toward achieving a settled crew more capable than we are seeing at present of being worthy threats to the clearly superior likes of the Crusaders and Hurricanes as trophy-chasers.

Do you see any end in sight to the predicament?

I don’t: not when announcements like the Coenie Oosthuizen one occur with such alarming frequency …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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