A tense waiting game lies ahead to acquire clarity and finality over a mega-money overseas deal that could reportedly be tabled for Bok star Pieter-Steph du Toit. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
‘Silly season’. In rugby circles, that’s the phrase often used in reference to the time preceding the period when certain players traditionally are coming out of contract and negotiations begin with South Africa’s stars – often targeted by big clubs in Europe, the UK and Japan.
Well, that so-called ‘silly season’ has the potential to have come a little early as nervous local employers wait to see if any of their players opt to exercise a controversial 21-day escape clause as part of a collective bargaining agreement implemented as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the SA rugby industry.
One of the more contentious aspects to emerge from this clause is an apparent stipulation that would prevent the SA franchise from entering into negotiations or counter-offers should one of their players opt to exercise the exit option and cancel their contract with immediate effect.
On Sunday, a report emerged to suggest that World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit was understandably one of the players who had garnered interest from overseas, with French giants Montpellier said to be in line for a multi-million offer.
Following that report, though, Montpellier moved to distance itself from the story.
‘Montpellier denies with the utmost firmness the alleged information stating that a contractual offer has been made to Pieter-Steph du Toit. The club is in no way engaged in any negotiation with this player. This act of disinformation only aims to harm the interests of the club, which is currently engaged in the safeguard of its structure.’
Yet, bear in mind that another phrase that normally accompanies this ‘silly season’ period is that ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire!’
Besides SARugbymag.co.za receiving assurances that the original story was based on solid information, Stormers coach John Dobson told this website they were aware of the talk doing the rounds.
‘I’m not aware of any formal offer being made as yet, but we do have massive reservations at the moment that we can’t negotiate with our own players, and that’s obviously a frustration.’
It is also understandable that Montpellier may not be in a position at this time to formalise an offer when clubs around the world have suffered their own financial setbacks, while there are doubts about whether the reported figure of a three-year contract worth around R75-million is on the money.
‘The only concern of the club is to allow a return to a practice of rugby in the best possible sanitary conditions in accordance with the positions and directives of the public authorities,’ Montpellier’s statement concluded.
Make no mistake, there is more to this story. Ultimately it still remains to be seen whether a formal offer is put forward, and should that be the case, a decision will then rest in the hands of Du Toit.
As part of the collective agreement, all professional players have until 14 May to exercise an exit clause that still remains in the spotlight.