‘Bleak outlook for SA Rugby’

Springbok flank Schalk Burger believes that SA Rugby needs to become more proactive in order to stop large numbers of young players from joining overseas clubs.

South African rugby is in crisis. Earlier this week, Bok No 8 Duane Vermeulen lamented the state of the game in South Africa. Vermeulen's sentiments have been echoed by many commentators and former players.

Burger played for the Stormers and Western Province for the better part of 14 years. He recently joined English club Saracens, and has not featured for the Boks in the 2016 season.

And yet, it's clear that what's happening in South Africa, from the chaos at administration level to the Boks suffering their worst-ever home loss (57-15 to New Zealand last Saturday) has not gone unnoticed by the 86-Test cap veteran.

'It hurts all of us who have played there for a long time,' Burger told The Guardian. 'I’m not too sure what the future is going to hold. At this moment it looks quite bleak out there.

'The warning signs were there last year and maybe the year before. We probably lost a few games we wouldn’t have lost in the past. We went through a phase when massive alarm bells were ringing but we probably had a good enough international side at the time to mask it.

'The issue we’ve got now is the age at which we’re losing players overseas,' he told the English newspaper. 'There’s no qualms about someone like myself, Duane Vermeulen or Francois Louw plying our trade overseas because we’ve done our bit for the Springboks over numerous years. The big issue is losing the pros in the middle.

'The bloke who plays 200 games for his team, drives the everyday values, pitches up without complaining and plays 80 minutes every week … we’ve lost them in South Africa. Our pros are sitting in France or Japan or here [in England]. We’ve got top players and promising young players but nothing in the middle.'

Burger admitted that professionals could earn far more abroad than in South Africa.  That said, more could be done to keep the bulk of the talent in South Africa.

'SA Rugby has to become more proactive. We’ve been a good rugby nation for so long and this is the first time we’re really in big crisis. We could have been more proactive in the past but now the issue is real. Everyone is looking ahead to 2019 but there’ll be no 2019 World Cup for the current crop of players if it goes on like this.

'The only time we’re going to get into Europe is when rugby as we know it in South Africa has a complete transformation, we get privately owned teams like the clubs over here and basically start a new competition.'

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Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli