SA Rugby’s new contracting model signifies some proactive steps to combat the ever-challenging financial climate affecting the game, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In a rather under-the-radar manner, SA Rugby sent out a statement on Saturday morning to confirm what was described as a ‘radical new’ contracting strategy. There were three key takeaways from the press release:
- Current Springbok contracting model to be turned on its head.
- 30-cap eligibility rules for overseas-based players to be scrapped
- Overseas clubs warned that Regulation 9 will be rigorously enforced.
The final point has to be applauded. World Rugby’s Regulation 9 prescribes when and how frequently club/franchise players must be released for international duty, and it’s a clear statement from SA Rugby that it will no longer be dictated to by overseas clubs looking to hang on to their players.
It’s no secret that French clubs are notorious for finding questionable loopholes to retain the services of their players, rather than release them for national duty. Just last year, we saw both Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis’ call-up to the Boks controversially blocked by a rather reticent Montpellier.
It also really didn’t serve the Boks’ cause to play a negotiation game with some of the English clubs when it came to securing the release of key players such as Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux.
There were some real cojones to the SA Rugby release on this front: ‘We have told the overseas clubs that we will be enforcing Regulation 9 and will be requiring our players for up to 14 weeks of the year. If the clubs don’t like that then they have the option of not signing the player,’ Rassie Erasmus stated.
Then, although the 30-cap eligibility ruling was already relaxed last year, it’s really the first point of the press release that could become a game-changer from 2020.
During a recent interview with Jurie Roux for SA Rugby magazine, the CEO explained that they simply had to start thinking differently in order to make it appealing for players to stay in South Africa, despite the current exchange rate constantly making a move overseas more and more lucrative.
‘The main reason players move abroad is for money,’ Roux stated openly. ‘The main line item in a team’s budget is player salaries. We can’t compete with the pound, euro or yen, but attempting to match a budget to reduce the overseas lure is the greatest financial difficulty our game faces.’
And so we come to the rather novel concept that will see dozens of home-based players taken into Springbok succession planning from next year. Players will be ranked by position – with next generation talent also brought into a significantly widened pool funded by SA Rugby. Those plying their trade in South Africa will receive top-up payments from their provinces.
It’s a change in philosophy. Instead of placing the focus on attempting to remunerate and retain a small number of high-profile players, the vision will now be to rather invest in a core group of talented players who have been recognised for their potential to contribute to the Springbok cause in the long term.
‘This way we incentivise and encourage a broader group, subsidise the franchises by giving a larger number of players additional income and put in place proper succession planning,’ Erasmus explained.
South Africa has always been recognised for its ability to keep a conveyer belt of talent ticking over as a result of the fact that rugby is essentially the No 1 national sport, with a strong schoolboy system, Craven Week production line and the highly-successful Varsity Cup.
This new model aims to ‘capture’ the next generation of Springbok stars, reward them financially, and mitigate the temptation of seeking greener pastures abroad.
It does place a considerable onus on SA Rugby’s talent identification process and succession planning to ensure that the ‘new group’ of around 75 contracted players are able to repay the investment.
It’s a case of risk versus reward, but the fact remains that the old contracting model is no longer sustainable in the current economic climate.
‘We have many players who have the potential to become Springboks. This way, we can give them that message in a practical way,’ Erasmus commented. ‘They will know that there is a future for them with the Springboks and that they can move up the succession ladder if their play merits it.’
So when one thinks of talented up-and-coming players such as Aphelele Fassi, Hacjivah Dayimani, Wandisile Simelane, Manie Libbok and countless others, it’s an opportunity to provide potential future Boks of this ilk with the job security of a clearly-defined career path.
Only time will tell whether such a move will work as well in practice as it sounds in theory, but SA Rugby should be commended for at least taking some decisive action, while facing up to the realities of a budget that is too small to compete with big-money offers from overseas.
Photo: Marty Melville/AFP Photo