It’s no surprise to see significant overseas interest in South Africa’s top players such as Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am and Pieter-Steph du Toit. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
One week from 7 May (today), the window will close on a contentious 21-day clause that allows local players to opt out of their current contracts and accept overseas offers should the option and desire be there.
It’s an extremely nervy time for current employers, who are desperate to hang on to some of their most important and high-profile players during this uncertain period.
Despite French giants Montpellier attempting to distance itself from reports of a big-money offer for Pieter-Steph du Toit, it’s no secret that the World Rugby Player of the Year has drawn big interest from more than one overseas club after word got out about the exit clause implemented as part of a collective agreement.
Agreed upon by the SA Rugby Industry, MyPlayers and the South African Rugby Employers’ Organisation (SAREO), all professional players were given three weeks – from 24 April until 14 May – to explore overseas options.
It’s suddenly opened up SA players to the overseas market, and the Stormers – for example – now face a nervous and challenging wait to see whether Du Toit is one of those who opts to consider accepting a lucrative offer at a time when the game is suffering financial setbacks, and pay cuts are in line to be implemented across the board in the South African rugby industry.
And he is undoubtedly not alone.
While Du Toit, as the SA Rugby and World Player of the Year, is naturally one of the most sought-after players, the Sharks also have a number of top players who have garnered interest from abroad.
There are very few more highly regarded players in world rugby than Mapimpi and Am, who were key to the Springboks’ World Cup success last year.
SARugbymag.co.za has learned reliably the 29-year-old Mapimpi has received a written offer from a Japanese club, while English club Northampton are believed to be interested in acquiring the services of Am.
Besides the high-profile reputations of these players, others such as Curwin Bosch, Thomas du Toit and even former Junior Springbok star JJ van der Merscht are understood to be sought after.
It’s all served to raise real question marks over the thinking around the controversial 21-day clause, and whether it may backfire if a group of top players end up opting to leave South African shores.
It also means there will be another week of tension, which could ultimately lead to a particularly troubling ‘transfer day’ of sorts on 13 May, when players could wait until the last minute before dropping the bombshell news that they have opted to accept an overseas contract if they so choose.
Indeed, a particularly contentious and confusing element of the exit clause has been the strange stipulation that disallows the franchises from entering into negotiations or counter-offers during this ‘open window’.
‘We do have massive reservations at the moment that we can’t negotiate with our own players, and that’s obviously a frustration,’ Stormers coach John Dobson told this website recently.
Ultimately, players will be left to weigh up various personal and financial options, and decide where their future best lies.
For example, perhaps, Du Toit is known to be very happy at the Stormers, where he also remains close to his family and the much-loved farm in Riebeek-Kasteel.
At the Sharks, a new culture of inclusivity and success looked to be well under way with the appointment of popular coach Sean Everitt and new CEO Eduard Coetzee, while the team was performing with real promise of reaching even greater heights earlier this year.
It remains to be seen whether such prospects and a culture of goodwill could factor into players’ decision-making, with the franchise determined to build a period of long-term success.
One thing that is almost certain is that Sharks players would have been far more likely to jump ship last year when there was widespread talk of disharmony during the reign of controversial coach Robert du Preez.
It’s understood that at both the Sharks and Stormers, regular and transparent discussions are ongoing with the various players in question, with an element of cautious optimism remaining that the players could be tempted to stay.
At the Vodacom Bulls, there is already a restructuring process under way and plenty of players movements at the start of the tenure of new director of rugby Jake White, while the Lions don’t have as many high-profile players on their books as they used to.
One way or another, it’s a tense time in SA rugby circles, with D-Day looming when the ‘transfer window’ closes.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets